The travels – and triumphs – continue for Lewiston hockey wunderkind Mark Anthoine.

From a five-game flurry at the Beantown Classic scouting combine for elite New England players, Anthoine advanced directly to a cross-country road trip with his parents Wednesday.

That drive is scheduled to end this afternoon in the outskirts of Chicago. Anthoine will quickly unpack, keep the keys to the car, hug the family goodbye and take the next plunge in a promising career that has already thrust him into elite company in his old neighborhood.

Anthoine, 16, has signed with the Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League for the 2007-08 season. The USHL is the only Tier 1, Junior-A league in the country, making it America’s closest facsimile to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, home to the Lewiston Maineiacs.

“It’s pretty much like what the Maineiacs are,” Anthoine said Tuesday night in a phone interview from Boston. “They play 60 regular-season games, plus playoffs. It’s a long season. You play in front of a lot of fans.”

Chicago drafted Anthoine with its eighth selection in the USHL Entry Draft in May. One month later, the 5-foot-11, 175-pound forward showcased his wares in a grueling, seven-day tryout camp.

Anthoine was one of the players enlisted to shower potential Steel backstops with pucks during the three-day goalie phase of camp. Then came two days of rookie tryouts and another two days of sharing the ice with veteran players.

Exhibiting the same nose for the net that made him a freshman star at St. Dominic Regional High School and a sniper with two different Portland Junior Pirates outfits, Anthoine sewed up a spot on Chicago’s 22-man protected roster.

He joins six players from Michigan, six from Illinois, three from Pennsylvania, two from Sweden, and one each from Wisconsin, New York, Minnesota and California.

“I just played really well,” Anthoine said of his tryout. “I was scoring a lot and finishing all my checks.”

No surprise for a player who is already committed to the University of Maine and has represented an age-group select team in international competition.

In his lone winter with the Junior Pirates’ ‘A’ team in the Atlantic Junior Hockey League, Anthoine was the youngest player selected to the all-star team. He was ultimately selected as one of the three stars in that game.

Anthoine, who amassed 47 goals and 37 assists in 64 games, expected to stay at Lewiston High School for his senior year while starring for the Junior Pirates on weekends.

“I never really talked with Chicago. Maybe three or four of the other teams, but that was it,” said Anthoine. “I wasn’t planning on going anywhere. I thought I’d just stay in Portland and be a captain this year.”

Friday is scheduled to be Anthoine’s first day of school at Downers Grove North High School, where he is one of over 600 students registered in the senior class.

That’s roughly double the size of Lewiston, eight times the enrollment of St. Dom’s.

“I really know nobody there,” admitted Anthoine. “There aren’t many other kids on the team my age who are still in school.”

Anthoine will live with a host family roughly 20 minutes from the Steel’s home rink, which is located in the suburb of Bensenville.

This promises to be a building year for the Steel. Only 11 players returned from a squad that finished last in the 12-team USHL with a dozen victories. Chicago is coached by former Portland Pirates crowd favorite and NHL veteran Steve Poapst.

Win or lose, Anthoine knows he will skate side-by-side with some of the premier talent in the nation.

“One of my buddies from camp (defenseman Will Weber) was already drafted in the second round by the Columbus Blue Jackets,” Anthoine said.

Anthoine is uncertain if Maine wants him to spend one or two seasons in the USHL before reporting to Orono. He expects to sit down with the coaching staff, evaluate graduation losses and weigh his prospective playing time before making a decision about 2008-09.

Either way, Anthoine would maintain a full four years of eligibility.

This year, however, 26 veteran USHL players were selected in the NHL Draft. Anthoine could join Weber on that list when he comes of age.

“I think at this point I’m going to stay on track, go to college and get my education,” Anthoine said. “If I work hard enough and I’m fortunate enough to get drafted and the team wanted me to go play Major Juniors because they thought it was the best chance for me to play professionally, then I’d have to think about it.”

Hey, three high schools and four teams in four years … thousands of highway miles … a closet full of individual and team honors. What’s another change in plans?


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