Nobody wants to play against Adam Fantilli.
The freshman forward brings an unmatched combination of skill and physicality to the No. 3 Michigan hockey team. As the nation’s leading point scorer, it’s a combination that Fantilli is proving nearly impossible to stop. And even Fantilli’s teammates can’t classify what kind of player he is.
“I don’t even know how to describe it,” freshman forward TJ Hughes said Monday. “He’s like a power forward, but he’s also super skilled — he can do it all. It’s the best of both worlds.”
As Fantilli continues to excel in both of those aspects, he remains undefendable. So this past weekend at No. 20 Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish tried a new way to control Fantilli.
They simply tried to take him off the ice entirely.
Midway through the first period of Friday’s series opener, sophomore forward Mackie Samoskevich took a big hit against the boards, immediately drawing a penalty. The officials reviewed it for a major, and concluded that the hit warranted Notre dame defenseman Jake Boltmann five minutes for checking from behind.
But when the officials came back with the ruling, they also announced that they were handing Fantilli a five-minute major for contact to the head elsewhere on the play, after a challenge by Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson.
Then, in the second period — an entire three minutes after the hit happened — Jackson challenged a second Fantilli hit for head contact. The challenge was unsuccessful, and Fantilli remained on the ice, but Jackson’s intentions were clear:
No matter what, Jackson did not want the Irish dealing with Fantilli.
“You know what they’re trying to do, 100%,” Michigan coach Brandon Naurato said postgame. “They don’t want to play against him. That line can’t play against him, so they want him off the ice.”
Fantilli, though, welcomed the challenges:
“I love it,” he said. “Means I’m doing something right.”
The next night, Notre Dame took a more subtle approach to taking Fantilli out of the game. Gone were the delayed challenges, replaced instead by simply getting in his face. When Fantilli took a cross-checking penalty, two members of the Irish skated right up to him. Yes, they were likely defending their teammate, but it wouldn’t have hurt if they encouraged Fantilli to engage in a little extracurricular activity, extending a two-minute minor into more.
But Fantilli didn’t let them do that. Instead, he simply skated away as the Notre Dame players approached, taking his penalty calmly and keeping himself in the game.
“Look at how Adam responds, he’s great,” Naurato said Friday. “He’s been targeted in the past because he’s an elite player, he’ll be targeted in the future. He’s got to learn to be calm, cool and collected and just do it the right way.”
Of course, Fantilli’s physicality will lead to penalties. But if he does it “the right way,” if those penalties stay between the whistles, then it remains an added physical threat to go along with his skills rather than a detriment.
So far, Fantilli has displayed that he can keep those penalties within his play, that he can stay level-headed.
“He’s really mentally strong, he’s a really positive guy,” Hughes said. “… He just stays calm, doesn’t get too high or too low. He’s been doing a great job.”
Against the Irish this past weekend, Fantilli stayed calm, cool, and collected. As teams continue to target him, he will need to continue playing that way.
Because nobody wants to play against Adam Fantilli, and everyone wants to get him off the ice.
The worst thing for the Wolverines is if he lets them.