SACO — Mark Anthoine pushed through the double doors from the locker room area at the MHG Ice Centre on Tuesday clutching an energy drink and breathing heavily. Out of his hockey uniform but still drenched in sweat, he greeted everyone holding a camera or a microphone with a smile.

And a pause.

“Sorry, I’m just catching my breath now,” the Lewiston native and former University of Maine alternate captain said. “These guys go hard.”

Anthoine is, at least for now, one of “these guys” — prospective American Hockey League players with a dream to play at the highest possible level.

The Portland Pirates opened training camp Tuesday, and Anthoine, who played at St. Dominic Academy in Auburn and in the United States Hockey League before suiting up for four seasons with the Black Bears, skated among those looking to make the roster.

“It’s very exciting, there are a lot of different feelings,” Anthoine said. “Anxious, excited, nervous, just like anything if you’re going to a new job. Now, it’s about earning a job at this level.”

Anthoine knows he has a professional hockey job this season. He signed a contract in the offseason with the Evansville (Indiana) Icemen of the ECHL, where he skated for a few games last spring after his college career was over.

But the ECHL is one step below the AHL, and Anthoine continues to set his hopes higher.

“I was looking for an opportunity to get into an AHL camp somewhere, and knew a few guys here,” Anthoine said. “They were waiting to see how many guys would be here from Arizona, and there are still guys there who will have to come down. But I’ve been training here for about three years, and I know a lot of the guys here, so it just kind of worked itself out. It’s an opportunity to work hard and try to earn a spot, or maybe if things don’t work out like that, maybe a call up. Anything I can do to help the team, I want to be a part of this organization.”

Pirates general manager and head coach Ray Edwards knew Anthoine after seeing him skate at the Saco rink over the summer.

“My son plays with the Junior Pirates program here, and I was out here this summer,” Edwards said. “Mark’s been out here skating all summer. I got to know him a little bit and we’ll muck it up with him here for a few days and see where it goes.”

Other than that, Edwards admitted, “We don’t know a lot about Mark, honestly. But he’s a local flavor, and he’s a good kid.”

It’s the latter part of Edwards’ statement that Anthoine takes to heart, and the part he hopes will be at least part of his ticket into the AHL.

“I like how (the Pirates) are running things this year. It’s very team-oriented,” Anthoine said. “I have a little bit of skill, but I really just try to be a team guy, just do whatever I can to help the team.”

If Anthoine achieves his goal of playing in Portland, it would be his fourth Pine Tree State hockey stop — St. Dom’s, the Junior Pirates and UMaine the previous three.

“I’ve been nothing but happy to be back in Maine,” Anthoine said. “It’s my home state, I love the people here, the fans in Orono … That was probably the best thing that ever happened to me, going to Orono and playing there. If the stars align, and I work hard, maybe there’s an opportunity for me here.”

Anthoine’s first impression Tuesday?

“The speed, the speed of the practice and the speed of the players,” Anthoine said. “Sometimes, in college, because you had so many guys … sometimes, if you’re pretty bagged, you can get away with, not hiding behind guys, but taking a breather for one shift. Here, we’re going, going, going. A lot of the drills are high-tempo with physical play, and some battle drills near the end there. You’re either willing to get your nose dirty or you’re not.”

Anthoine said he has little time to be in awe of any of the other players he is playing with or against. He’s more concerned instead with the task at hand — trying to make the team at all.

“It’s eye-opening to see players who have played at the next level. You just kind of read off that,” Anthoine said. “The coaches, they want hard-working, team guys this year and trying to turn an organization around and go for it this year. I’d really like to be a part of that team.

“I’m just going with the flow,” he added. “All you can do is just put your nose down and work hard.”


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