Article by Samantha Roering. Photos by Samantha Roering.

This weekend, St. Cloud State University faces off against Western Michigan in the NCHC quarterfinals, with their eyes set on defending their NCHC Frozen Faceoff title and clinching a spot in the national tournament.

Western Michigan, finishing sixth in the NCHC with 37 points, poses a challenge, but St. Cloud secured home-ice advantage with a third-place conference finish.

The teams have clashed four times this season, with St. Cloud winning three and losing one in overtime, setting the stage for what should be a tightly contested playoff series.

Their last encounter in February saw a split series in St. Cloud, highlighted by freshman goaltender Isak Posch’s remarkable shutout effort, earning him NCHC Rookie of the Week honors.

Dominic Basse’s shutout in an earlier meeting between the teams showcased that both goaltenders can hold off Western Michigan’s offensive threats.

Despite St. Cloud’s favorable season series record, they anticipate a hard-fought battle, as emphasized by Huskies captain Dylan Anhorn.

“It’s going to be a really good match-up between us. It’s going to be whoever wants it more and we’re going to bring the will,” Anhorn said.

Last season, Anhorn was sidelined during the NCHC championship run, but he’s eager to contribute to this year’s playoff efforts.

This season’s team differs significantly from last year’s Frozen Faceoff-winning squad, with noticeable departures, yet the team class has risen to the challenge with the talented freshman class coming in.

Despite recent setbacks, including getting swept consecutive weekends, the team remains focused on playoff success and is excited to play competitive playoff hockey in front of their fans.

“It’s been very frustrating but we recognize it’s a fresh slate here now with playoffs. We earned this opportunity to take advantage of our home crowd so we’re going to take some confidence in that,” Anhorn said.

Freshman Tyson Gross, coming off of being named NCHC Rookie of the Week, and forward Zach Okabe are key players to watch. The impactful Miettinen brothers will be important to keep an eye on too.

Defensively, Anhorn and Jack Peart have gotten recognition for their play, while Western Michigan’s offensive talent in Luke Grainger and Sam Colangelo could be a challenge to contain.

With both teams eyeing a national tournament spot, this weekend’s series holds significant stakes, with the winner advancing to the next round of NCHC play and the loser facing the end of their season.

Anhorn views this pressure as a privilege believing that the team is ready for the challenge ahead.

“It’s been such a tight race all year that we’re kind of used to pressure at this point. That’s what you want as a hockey player, to be in the big moments that matter. We’re really excited for it,” Anhorn said.

The best-of-three quarterfinal series kicks off Friday at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center, with potential games on Saturday and Sunday, if necessary.

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