Let me get this straight. Michigan is an underdog.

The team with the nation’s leading scorer, T.J. Hensick, is an underdog.

The team that has 11 NHL Draft picks — including Jack Johnson and his goalie-slaying slapshot – is an underdog.

The team playing its best hockey of the season, the team that came ridiculously close to beating No. 1 Notre Dame this weekend, is an underdog.

How is that possible?

Well, look at the NCAA Regional the Wolverines are headed for. First, there’s No. 1 overall seed Minnesota. You’ll remember the Golden Gophers from their 8-2 thrashing of Michigan in the College Hockey Showcase Thanksgiving weekend.

Then there’s No. 3 seed North Dakota. The Wolverines’ most recent encounter with the Fighting Sioux was a punishing 5-1 loss that sent them home from the 2006 NCAA Tournament after one game with their tail between their legs.

And last but, OK yes, least is Air Force, a friendly No. 4 seed from the humble Atlantic Hockey conference. This team might not be as daunting as Minnesota and North Dakota, but it does have Eric Ehn – the guy three points behind Hensick atop the nation’s scoring list.

So when it was announced yesterday that the Wolverines are going to the seventh circle of Hell – I mean, the NCAA West Regional in Denver – it wasn’t too surprising that they were a bit overlooked by the ESPN commentators discussing the contenders.

OK, maybe they weren’t really mentioned at all.

But if anything, the Wolverines got a laugh out of it (“I don’t think they know we’re in the Tournament,” Michigan coach Red Berenson joked) and some motivation.

And with North Dakota as their first opponent, they’re going to need it.

The Fighting Sioux is the hottest squad in college hockey right now. Their 22-13-5 overall record is deceiving, thanks to a miserable start to the season. But now many pick them as a favorite to win a national title.

So now Michigan can take its underdog motivation and stick it to all the people who doubted (or just forgot about) them.

“I don’t think we got much respect there in the ESPN analysis,” Hensick said. “We know we’re the underdog. We know Minnesota and North Dakota are the favorites. We’re going to go out there with that mentality.”

And here is something else to chew on: In the last Michigan-North Dakota matchup, the Wolverine goaltending situation was beyond shaky. Career backup Noah Ruden was starting back then in place of an unconfident Billy Sauer.

But now Sauer is mature and strong. He’s certainly worlds away from his performance between in the pipes against Minnesota in November.

In front of him, the blue line is playing its tightest defense yet. And don’t forget Michigan’s 4.22 goals per game, the best in the NCAA. That offense is just sick.

So the Wolverines will pack up all their talent – and their somewhat peculiar little-guy status – and ship it to Denver.

The altitude and intensity will be high, but don’t let your hopes for the team get too low. Because whether other people realize it or not, this team has a chance.

– Colvin can be reached at ambermco@umich.edu.

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