Connor Anthoine and Matt Lee have known each other for most of their lives. Anthoine grew up in Lewiston, Lee in Waterville.
They’ve played hockey against each other for years, first at the youth level, then on select teams. Now they’re teammates on SUNY-Geneseo College – roommates actually – and coming home.
The Knights are among the four teams playing for the NCAA Division III men’s hockey championship Friday and Saturday at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston. Making its first Frozen Four appearance, SUNY-Geneseo (23-6) will play powerhouse St. Norbert (26-3-1), making its ninth semifinal appearance in the last 12 years, at 4 p.m. Friday in the opening semifinal.
Oswego State (22-6-2) will play Wisconsin-Stevens Point (21-5-2) in the 7:30 p.m. semifinal.
They are the only two Mainers on the rosters of the four teams competing for the championship.
“We’re pretty excited to be headed home,’’ said Anthoine, whose brother, Mark, was a captain at the University of Maine this year.
“I know I’m going to have a lot of family coming to the game. I haven’t been able to play at home in a long time.’’
That’s because Anthoine, who attended St. Dominic as a freshman and sophomore (but never played hockey for the Saints, instead skating for the Portland Junior Pirates) left Maine to play for the Green Mountain Glades in the Eastern Junior Hockey League his final two seasons.
Then he played for the Islanders Hockey Club in Massachusetts in junior hockey before joining the Knights.
Now a 20-year-old freshman at SUNY-Geneseo, he estimates, “The last time I played there was probably when I was 15.’’ A forward, the 5-foot-8, 170-pound Anthoine played in 26 games with two goals and eight assists.
Lee, also a freshman for the Knights, had one of his career highlights in the Colisee, skating as a freshman for Waterville High when the Panthers won the Class A state championship in 2009.
He played junior hockey for a year for the Walpole Express, coached by Mark Kumpel, the former Portland Pirates coach.
But Lee’s return to Maine is bittersweet. He suffered a broken fibula in his left leg and tore tendons in his ankle early in the season during a practice. A 5-foot-9, 180-pound defenseman, he played in three games, scoring one goal.
“It’s been kind of tough,’’ he said. But his cast came off two weeks ago and he has begun skating again. “It was just unfortunate,’’ he said. “I was unlucky.’’
But both players feel fortunate to be part of an up-and-coming program. Geneseo won the SUNYAC regular-season title with a 14-2 record, then lost to Oswego 7-6 in the tournament championship game.
“I absolutely love it here,’’ said Anthoine. “It’s been an exciting season. I’m happy to play and be in the lineup on most nights.
“This is one of the best-coached teams I’ve played on. It’s been exciting for the team.’’
Lee said his teammates wouldn’t let his injury detract from his season. At first he didn’t want to be around the team, then he received several text messages telling him he was still a member. So he went to practices, watched film, asked questions as if he were still playing and “just kept involved.’’
Being with Anthoine helped. The two could share stories about places they had been to or arenas they had played in.
“And a lot of the jokes I tell, the other guys don’t get but he does,’’ said Anthoine. “Having him as my roommate reminds me a little bit of home.’’
Chris Schultz, the coach of the Knights, said the two were instrumental to the team’s success. He spoke highly of Anthoine’s game, saying, “He’s got great character, great hockey sense and understands the game. He makes it easy for me. Of Lee, he said, “We just really like the way he plays the game; it’s how we want to play.’’
The two have actually been looking forward to this weekend for a long time.
When Anthoine committed to the Knights over a year ago, he knew that the championship would be decided in Lewiston. “I told my dad, wouldn’t it be something to come home in the Frozen Four,’’ he said. “Believe it or not, we’re here. It’s a dream come true, honestly.’’
Lee said his family and friends will be there, even if he isn’t playing.
“A lot of people are asking for tickets,’’ he said. “They’re going to come and support the team that I play for. And that means a lot to me.
“It’s almost surreal, really, to come back to skate in the rink where I played a high school championship in, where I won a state championship. Connor and I talked about how cool it would be to come back before all our buddies, to be there for the Frozen Four. It’s kind of hard to believe right now. I think it will hit me when I get to the rink and see the NCAA logos on the ice. That’s when I’ll know we made it.’’
Mike Lowe can be reached at 791-6422 or at: