Local connections: Bemidji State hockey teams cull from regional talent
BEMIDJI, Minn. — Section 8 pride runs through the veins of Bemidji State hockey.
Between the Beaver men's and women's programs, 10 players hail from northwest Minnesota.
That includes two Bemidji Lumberjacks who will be wearing letters for the men's team this season. Senior forward Jordan Heller will wear a captain's "C" and junior defenseman Dillon Eichstadt an "A" as an alternate captain.
The former Bemidji High School teammates are two of the three Lumberjacks who have suited up for BSU since the program moved to NCAA Division I in 1999-2000.
"It's very special. Me and Dylan, we've grown up playing together our whole lives," Heller said.
"We've been best buds forever, you know, and been playing on the same team all the way up," Eichstadt said. "It's been fun. I've been able to play junior hockey with him and then now college."
The men's team's other Section 8 representative is senior goaltender Michael Bitzer, who formerly had an on-ice rivalry with the two Lumberjacks in his days as a Moorhead Spud.
"We battle it out," Heller said. "It's always a game that we go to — me, Bitzer and Eicher."
The former high school rivals unite in their pride for the hockey played in this region of the state.
"We'll be in the weight room afterward and we joke around that the Section 8 guys know how to work and the city guys just don't quite get it," Bitzer said. "We like to joke around about it quite a bit and we're pretty proud of where we come from."
Haley Mack, an East Grand Forks native on the BSU women's team, shared the same sentiment.
"We're proud of where we come from, especially up north," Mack said. "I know we have a lot of city girls on the team, we like to call them. It's a great combo."
The BSU women have even more Section 8 representation with three players from Thief River Falls (Emily Bergland, Sylvia Marolt and Briana Jorde), two from East Grand Forks (Mack and Mak Langei) and one each from Bemidji (Heather Olson) and Moorhead (Kara Werth).
"We certainly like 218ers, we call 'em," said women's coach Jim Scanlan, who formerly coached the East Grand Forks boys and girls hockey teams. "Whether or not it's a preference, if we feel they can come in and help us, that's the bottom line."
Scanlan's counterpart on the men's program echoed his appreciation for the region's hockey prospects.
"It's a natural for us," men's coach Tom Serratore said. "A lot of times recruiting boils down to geography. And you take a look at our roster, you know we have our share of Manitoba kids, our share of northwestern Minnesota kids, and the reason is is because it's close.
"You have to identify those players who you feel can help your program. If they're close, if they're within that proximity of being able to drive, there's a good chance you're gonna be able to get your foot in the door there."