BEMIDJI, Minn. — Mitch McLain didn’t wait long to reward his family and friends for making the trip to Bemidji State Friday night.
The Bowling Green sophomore left wing scored just 3:51 into the game, helping the Falcons to a 4-1 victory.
McLain, junior right wing Matt Pohlkamp and freshman defenseman Chris Pohlkamp all are enjoying a homecoming this weekend.
All three are from Baxter, Minn., which is approximately two hours south/southeast of Bemidji in the north central part of the state.
The three all graduated from Brainerd High School where Falcon assistant coach Ty Eigner was the head coach from 1999-2007. Bemidji goalie Reid Mimmack also is a Brainerd graduate.
BG goalie Tommy Burke is a Minnesota native. He’s from Chaska, about four hours south of Bemidji. He’ll enjoy an even bigger homecoming when the Falcons travel to Minnesota State in February.
Chaska is about an hour northwest of Minnesota State.
“Starting with Matt and Chris tonight, too, it’s just one of those things that definitely means a lot,” McLain said after the Falcons improved to 10-3-5 overall and 7-2-4 in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
“It means a lot to get the win in front of them, too. It was awesome playing in front of my family and friends. I’ve got guys I hang out with in the summer who came down and family, my trainer, Matt’s trainer.”
McLain fired the puck into the net to finish off a breakaway to give BG a 1-0 lead less than four minutes into the game.
“Probably the most meaningful goal I could score,” McLain said. “I scored last year at the (WCHA) Final Five in St. Paul with a lot of family there … a lot of family and friends here tonight with it being a closer trip for them.
“It doesn’t feel like a road game because you have friends and family here watching you.”
The Pohlkamps had about 20 requests for tickets for the game, and McLain had about a dozen. And that doesn’t include any Brainerd fans who bought tickets for the game.
Bemidji State offered a cheaper ticket for residents of the Brainerd school district.
“It’s special,” McLain said. “We used to come to UM (University of Minnesota) games growing up. Now, we’re in that spot, any time kids are around from our hometown, it’s good to play well in front of them.”
McLain and Matt Pohlkamp each had five of BG’s 19 shots in the game.
The Pohlkamps each blocked two shots. McLain had an on-ice rating of +2, while Chris Pohkamp was +1 and Matt Pohlkamp was even. They also helped BG kill off all five of Bemidji’s power plays.
Chris Pohlkamp also played against his defense partner from last season, Bemidji freshman Dillon Eichstadt. The two became best friends last season, helping Sioux Falls to the United States (Junior) Hockey League championship.
“It’s fun being back,” Chris Pohlkamp said. “I’m excited to play. I have lot of family and friends here.”
“It definitely gives you a little more energy and you’re excited to play,” Matt Pohlkamp said. “You want to play well this weekend.”
The Bemidji series also gave their parents a chance to see their sons play.
Because of the travel distance, McLain’s parents were in BG for just two series last season. They didn’t see him play in person the previous season when he skated for Langley in the British Columbia (Junior) Hockey League.
The parents for McLain and Pohlkamp both were in BG Nov. 6-7 for the hockey team’s Parents Weekend.
After Bemidji, the next closest drive to Bemidji is Houghton, Mich., which is almost seven hours away.
“It’s nice to be back home,” Burke said. “With our league, we don’t have many games in the central time zone. It’s nice to come back and my family can get a bit of a shorter drive coming in. It’s an exciting weekend.”
Bemidji radio play by play voice Brian Schultz was the voice of the Brainerd High School hockey team when Eigner was the head coach.
“It’s nice to come back because you know the area and it’s special because of the personal connection you have with the area,” Eigner said.
Eigner’s Minnesota connections are helping the Falcons recruit more players from the state. The Falcons have had a handful of Minnesota players over the years, but this year they have four.
Two BG recruits — forwards Max Johnson and Connor Ford — have Minnesota ties.
Johnson is playing for Lakeville North High School where Eigner’s brother, Trent, is the head coach. Trent Eigner couldn’t be in Bemidji for the series because his team is playing Thursday and Saturday.
Ford is from Pittsburgh, but is playing this season for Shattuck St. Mary’s Prep located in Fairbault, Minn.
“We have to find the right kid,” said Eigner, who is from Apple Valley, about a half hour south of Minneapolis. “If they’re willing to give us a chance, we’re willing to recruit them.
“Hopefully, the more that are here, the message gets to other kids — there are other programs that are viable and that can be great for you, if you’re looking for a certain kind of thing.”
Minnesota natives usually grow up watching one of the state’s five NCAA Division I programs — Minnesota, St. Cloud, Bemidji, Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota State. They usually want to play for one of those teams.
And the University of North Dakota is right across the border.
“The culture of the program was the right fit for me and it’s worked out well,” Burke said of BG.
McLain chose BG over Bemidji, Alaska (Fairbanks), St. Cloud and Vermont.
“I knew coach Eigner being from Brainerd, and I knew Matt (Pohlkamp),” McLain said. “When I came to BG on my recruiting visit, I could really reach out to those guys and get the truth.
“When I sat in there and listened to what coach Bergeron (BG head coach Chris) had to say, I knew he wasn’t filling me with BS,” McLain added. “I knew I was going to have a good opportunity to play and be a part of something special.”