Luke Antonacci is an undersized defenseman for the University of Maine men’s hockey team at 5-foot-9, 171 pounds.
But the freshman hasn’t let his size diminish his contribution to the Black Bears.
Through their first 11 games, he leads the team in blocked shots with 17, and 13 of those have come in their six Hockey East games.
“I’m not really a shot blocker but I will do whatever it takes for the team,” said Antonacci, who played for the Clark Cup-winning Sioux City Musketeers in the United States Hockey League a year ago, where he had 5 goals and 18 assists in 61 games and was an impressive plus-33 in plus-minus.
“I’ve gotten a lot of them on my left leg, so my left leg is beaten up a little bit,” added Antonacci, who is an excellent skater with quick feet.
Antonacci — a native of Princeton, New Jersey — has been getting a lot of ice time for UMaine, which is 2-8-1 overall and 0-5-1 in Hockey East. In addition to a regular shift, he has been a valuable component on the penalty kill and seen a little time on the power play. He also is fearless and a tireless worker, according to his teammates.
“He doesn’t shy away from anything. He puts his body on the line for us every night to give us the best chance to win,” junior center and assistant captain Lynden Breen said. “We’re lucky to have him.”
Antonacci said playing at the collegiate level is heavier and grittier than it was in junior hockey, and feels playing a tough early schedule is helping the team develop before it gets to the heart of its Hockey East play.
Nine of UMaine’s first 11 games have been against nationally-ranked opponents.
“I feel good about my game but I could take a few more steps. I could get more involved in the play on the rush and get more shots through,” said Antonacci, who has three assists in 11 games.
“You are never going to make the right play all the time, it just comes with experience. But you want to make the right play as much as possible.”
Antonacci was very familiar with Maine before he became a Black Bear.
He spent two seasons playing for the Maine Nordiques in Lewiston in the North American Hockey League. His father, Darryl, owns the team.
He had gotten to know UMaine head coach Ben Barr when Barr was an assistant at UMass, and was also familiar with UMaine goalie coach Alfie Michaud, whom he met several years earlier at a USHL tryout camp.
They are two reasons he chose to attend UMaine.
“I never came up to Orono until after my last season with the Nordiques, mostly due to COVID. It was cool. Nobody was here so I got to explore the arena and meet the coaches. The following year, I kept in touch with Coach Barr and ended up here,” Antonacci said.
He said it has been “great” learning from Barr, who coached the defensemen at UMass.
“He has been a part of many successful teams. He knows what he’s doing,” said Antonacci.
“Luke is just a really efficient player,” Barr said. “He isn’t a flashy player but he gets the job done. He defends well, he can get us out of our [defensive] zone and he kills penalties really well. He competes really hard and he’s a great kid, too.”
Antonacci enjoys playing in front of the enthusiastic crowds at Alfond Arena and said the Black Bears are close to becoming a good team.
Their last four losses, all against ranked teams, have been by a total of five goals with one being an empty-netter.
“We’re almost there. We have a good group of guys. The main thing for us is to keep our heads down, put in the work and keep grinding every day. We could have won each one of those games. We’re ready to take the next step. We have to trust the process,” he said.
UMaine will host defending three-time Atlantic Hockey champion American International College at 2 p.m. Saturday.