The Michigan Wolverines are set to face Colgate in their quest for that elusive national championship. Talented teams are a yearly occurrence in Ann Arbor, but no team has been able to match the feat of the 1998 team by winning four straight games in the NCAA Tournament.
Last year’s squad was the heavy favorite but was upended by the eventual champion, Denver, in overtime. This year’s Michigan team was expected to compete, but with such an influx of youth and uncertainty, the team was not expected to reach this level.
Freshman sensation and Hobey Baker finalist Adam Fantilli is the nation’s leading scorer (27 G, 34 A; 61 PTS) and is fresh off being named the Big Ten Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Michigan’s top line of Fantilli, Rutger McGroarty and Gavin Brindley (all freshmen), was dominant in the conference tournament and will anchor the Wolverines offensively.
Defensively, Michigan has been led by All-American and future New Jersey Devil Luke Hughes. Hughesy is second on the team in scoring (9 G, 33 A; 42 PTS), but his biggest improvement this season has been the consistency of his physical play. He has evolved from a risk-taking firework into a more complete player that sees the ice like a quarterback regardless of who he is paired with.
In net, Erik Portillo (.907) has regressed slightly this season with a revolving door of defensive duos in front of him, but still manages to make a timely save every game.
On paper, the Wolverines are a vastly superior team in terms of talent compared to Colgate, but the Raiders have found a way to mitigate this disadvantage with their style of play.
Colgate plays defense similar to Notre Dame and runs a 1-1-3 formation through the neutral zone. This allows the Raiders to shrink the game and negate matchups dictated by pure talent.
In the ECAC Tournament, Colgate upset the No. 2 overall NCAA Tournament seed, Quinnipiac, in 2OT in the semifinals, and upset at-large NCAA Tournament participant Harvard (No. 7 in Pairwise) in the conference final. This is Colgate’s first NCAA Tournament in more than 30 years, and the Raiders would love to play spoiler to the Wolverines.
Colgate is led by a proficient scoring duo of Matt Verboon (21 G, 18 A; 39 PTS) and Ross Mitton (16 G, 19 A; 35 PTS), the only two 30-point scorers on the team. The Raiders are a top line-heavy team that gets valuable contributions from defenseman and premier set-up man Nick Anderson (3 G, 26 A, 29 PTS).
The nucleus of the Raiders is starting goaltender Carter Gylander (.918), who is 19-14-5 and has only lost one game since Feb. 10.
The Wolverines are 4-1-1 lifetime against Colgate, including an NCAA Tournament 4-3 OT win in 2000.
It’s single-elimination hockey now. The winner of Michigan/Colgate will earn the right to face the winner of Penn State/Michigan Tech in the Allentown Regional Final, with a Frozen Four berth on the line.
WHEN: Friday, March 24, 8:30 p.m.
WHERE: Allentown, PA
HOW TO WATCH: ESPNU and TSN+
HOW TO LISTEN: Varsity Podcast Network