DURHAM, N.H. — There are many people to credit for Mark Anthoine’s college hockey career. But the first assist might go to Emilio Estevez.
Anthoine was born in Lewiston in 1990. Two years later, Estevez starred in a low-budget, low-brow Disney movie called “The Mighty Ducks,” as the reluctant coach of a youth hockey team. Two sequels followed. Faster than you can say “Flying V,” Anthoine was hooked on hockey despite being born into a basketball family (his father, Mark, played that sport at Bowdoin College).
“I just happened to get on skates,” Anthoine said. “I’d play on Rollerblades in the neighborhood with my best friends.”
It was the beginning of an unlikely rise for Anthoine, now a senior left winger at the University of Maine. Relatively few Maine-born players get to skate for the Black Bears, who face New Hampshire at 7 p.m. Friday. Fewer still were drawn to the sport by a film trilogy.
But once Anthoine committed to hockey, his natural ability was apparent. He skated on tennis courts-turned-hockey rinks in his friends’ back yards. He played for a youth traveling team, then briefly for perennial state power St. Dominic. He left there to join the Portland Junior Pirates for two seasons, excelling enough to be named to an AJHL all-star team.
It was at that event that then-Maine Coach Tim Whitehead first saw Anthoine play. Anthoine, naturally, had grown up rooting for the Black Bears. Greg Moore of Lisbon was an early hero.
Whitehead was eager to get a look at another local talent.
“I just loved the wide-base skating and his strength on his feet,” Whitehead recalled. “He had a good scoring touch and courage in traffic. When you see a Maine kid that catches your eye right away, it’s a good feeling.”
But first, all agreed that Anthoine needed more seasoning, and for that he had to travel to the Midwest to play in America’s premier junior league, the USHL. Anthoine spent two seasons with the Chicago Steel, but Whitehead and his staff, after much debate, reckoned he could use one more winter away. Anthoine was a USHL all-star that year.
“He hadn’t completely conquered that level,” Whitehead said. “That extra year was just what he needed to be an impact player at Maine.”
When Anthoine finally arrived in Orono in 2010, he was polished enough to contribute in all 33 games, the only freshman to do so.
His sophomore season brought a big breakthrough. Anthoine scored 12 goals, 11 of them on the power play, which tied for the national lead. He netted four game-winners, including the one that he still counts as his most memorable in a Black Bear sweater. In the Hockey East semifinals at TD Bank Garden, Anthoine found himself in a position every player dreams of.
“Someone tried to clear the puck and I intercepted it,” he said. “I just got off a quick shot low on the ice and beat him glove-side.”
That lifted the Black Bears over Boston University in a season that ended in the NCAA tournament.
Whitehead can still vividly recall the goal as well, and said it was indicative of the kind of player Anthoine had become.
“He just had a knack for scoring the big goal,” Whitehead said. “We had put him at the net front on the power play that year and everything clicked. He just developed a great shot from the slot. It wasn’t just deflections and rebounds. He developed a really nice one-timer and could get it off quick. And that’s exactly what that goal was.”
Anthoine’s junior season wasn’t nearly as memorable. He netted only four goals; Whitehead was dismissed at the end of the year, replaced by Red Gendron.
Anthoine is looking for a grand finale. Maine is 11-8-3 and 5-2-3 in Hockey East play entering the weekend series with New Hampshire (Saturday’s rematch is in Orono). Anthoine has 15 points and a plus-6 rating while seeing extended time on both the power play and penalty-kill units.
He is one of the team’s assistant captains. Gendron has been impressed.
“He’s always one of the hardest workers at practice and he competes like a dog,” Gendron said. “Leadership doesn’t have to be somebody giving a big speech and trying to inspire people with words. There are all different forms of leadership, and I think he does it best by how he competes, how he takes care of his business, the example that he sets.”
Anthoine said he would like to play professionally when his time at Maine is done. He calls himself a “defensive forward” and vows to bring a strong work ethic to any team in need of those traits. His coaches suggest Anthoine is selling himself short with that description.
The business management major has also joked with his roommates, Jon Swavely and Brice O’Connor, about starting a business together. They would take care of the books and he would be the people person. Anthoine is a natural on social media, as any of his 1,009 followers on Twitter (@twandog) can attest.
But truthfully, he’s not sure what he’ll do after hockey.
Anthoine wants to take this season as far as he can, hopefully all the way to the NCAA tournament again. He’s been thrilled to be one of only a couple dozen native Mainers to compete for the Black Bears.
Whitehead said it’s a blessing and a burden that Anthoine has worn well.
“Everybody knows who you are and that’s good; there’s an exciting part of that, to be a Maine kid playing for your state university,” Whitehead said.
“But coming with that is that responsibility to represent the school in the right way. And people know you, so now they’re looking for you to produce and that’s not easy. When you know the little kids are watching you, there’s a little bit more added pressure.”
Anthoine doesn’t focus on that, though.
“It’s an amazing experience to be part of this, and it’s not even just the hockey. It’s a family. For some reason, anywhere you go, there’s some connection to Maine hockey, whether they’re a fan or they know people from here,” Anthoine said.
“I’ve been proud of representing the state.”
Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: