At age 15, playing for the Portland Junior Pirates, he committed to play for Division I University of Vermont, and had his hockey path in place.

But people evolve. Circumstances change, futures become altered, forcing tough choices, hard decisions.

Anthoine never did play a shift for Vermont, choosing instead to ply his trade with the SUNY-Geneseo Knights, a small New York state school outside Rochester.

A year later, still a freshman, he’s coming home — to play in the NCAA Division III National Hockey Championship at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.

“When I committed here to Geneseo in February last year, I remember talking to my dad and him telling me the Frozen Four was in Lewiston,” Anthoine said. “We were thinking how crazy it would be to come back here and play in the Frozen Four, and the fact that it’s really happening now is like a dream come true. It still feels pretty surreal to me right now.”

What he wanted as a 15-year-old wasn’t necessarily what he needs now. It has been a trying search in between. His hockey life has not only provided him plenty of opportunity but also challenging decisions. It forced some weighty choices at a young age.

“It was always what he felt was best for him, with a little guidance from us along the way,” said Connor’s father, Mark Anthoine Sr. “He did a very good job whenever an opportunity came up to weigh the pros and cons, at a very young age, to know what he wanted to be down the road. All his college decisions were based on what he wanted to be a few years beyond the time he’d be making that decision.”

Connor Anthoine credits the support from his family and friends. He was not only given guidance from his family but the freedom to make his own choices.

“It was always important that he made a decision to go wherever he wanted to go,” his father said. “First of all, he had to be happy about the decision. Secondly, he wanted to play at a level that he could compete at and never be afraid to stretch himself a little bit and be at a place where the environment is welcoming and be at a place where he can enjoy the experience.”

His older brother, Mark Jr., faced similar challenges. Three years older than Connor, Mark chose the University of Maine, played Division I hockey and was an alternate captain as a senior this season.

“I always told him the truth as a brother and someone who had been around a lot of different coaches and different levels and leagues,” Mark Jr. said. “I wasn’t just telling him what he wanted to hear but what he needed to hear.”

That wisdom and support proved invaluable. Connor said the tough choices he made helped lead him to where he is now. And this weekend is the opportunity of a lifetime.

“They let me make my own decisions,” he said. “They just helped me so much to grow as a person. I knew no matter what, whatever the decision was, I knew they were going to be proud of me and love me no matter what. That’s been a real help to me through a lot of the tough decisions I had to make. I’m really grateful for that.”

He stayed with his choice to attend Vermont and play hockey for the Catamounts — even passing on an opportunity with the Lewiston Maineiacs in 2010 — until last year.

“They just kind of lost interest in me,” Connor said of Vermont. “We were just going to go our separate ways. I committed when I was very young. It had been a long time since that happened. I decided to not go there and look at my other options.”

He was tired of the junior hockey circuit and the monotony of living hockey every day. He was ready for something else.

“I’d been doing it for so long,” Connor said. “It was getting tiring with practice every day. At that point, I was just ready to move on with my life and this was the place I wanted to be. This was a place that wanted me. So I decided to make the decision to go here and start my life in college. It was the best decision I’ve ever made in my entire life, and look where I am now.”

He learned about Geneseo through a teammate with the Eastern Mountain Glades, his junior team. He looked into the hockey program and was intrigued.

“I shot them an email to see what they were all about,” Connor said. “I got a call. I went on a visit. I fell in love with the place. It’s a great school. It’s an unbelievable atmosphere. Everyone supports the hockey team. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to end up.”

Giving up on the dream of playing Division I hockey wasn’t so easy. It had been his goal for years.

“It definitely was a tough decision for me to make,” he said. “It was one thing I had been planning on my entire life, and all of a sudden, it started changing. Then other opportunities arrived. It really came down to, do I want to go somewhere where I’m not going to play as much and be part of a Division I team, or do I want to play Division III and have a better opportunity to play every game and be able to help the team make it to something like the Frozen Four?”

His brother, Mark Jr., offered his input. Though he was playing at the Division I level, he knew the kind of opportunities his brother could still experience playing Division III.

“You definitely want to play somewhere where you’re wanted,” Mark Jr. said. “I’m pretty sure they had good interest in him. Even if it isn’t Division I, it’s not like it isn’t good hockey. You’re still getting a good education.”

Connor said his brother’s perspective was critical in the decision. It helped confirm his priorities and allowed him to let go of the Division I dream.

“That was the biggest concern of mine,” Connor said. “My brother is probably my biggest fan and pretty much my hero. I’ve watched him play since I was a kid. The only person I ever wanted to be was him. To have him be there and help me make decisions and say, ‘Why can’t you play Division III? As long as you play hockey and have fun, that’s all that matters.’ Those were the words I wanted to hear.”

In his first year with Geneseo, he’s played in 26 games, scored two goals and added eight assists. It has been a good fit.

And now he gets to play in the Division III National Championship in Lewiston.

“I’m actually staying in a hotel in my own hometown,” said Connor, who hasn’t played an actual game in the Colisee since he was playing youth hockey. “It’s been fun to talk about my hometown and be able to come back here and play. I honestly can’t wait.”

Geneseo teammate Matt Lee, a Waterville native, won the state title in 2009 as a freshman with the Purple Panthers. Teammates have been asking about the rink, the ice, and what to expect, and the excitement in his replies have provided an energy off which his teammates can feed Friday night.

“Honestly, they’ve made me feel happy about it,” he said. “They’ve been great about it. I’m really excited to take them home to where I live to show them how to do everything around there and play some hockey with them in my home rink.”

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