MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota is celebrating a milestone this season in girls’ hockey.
It’s the 25th year — the silver anniversary — of the very first girls’ hockey season in this state.
Only one man from that first season is still coaching today. And it turns out, he has one of the state’s best teams once again.
Ask Dave Palmquist to go back in time, and he’s happy to oblige. It was an amazing time to be a part of something up-and-coming.
“I’ll never forget it. Very vivid in my mind. Just a packed out Aldrich Arena. For the first time ever seeing girls play in a state high school tournament. For us to be a participant, it was amazing. You were like rock stars,” Palmquist said.
Minnesota was the first state in the nation to host a girls’ hockey state tournament, and it started out as a four-team affair at Aldrich Arena.
Palmquist’s South St. Paul was one of those first four and finished runner-up. Later, they were the state’s first dynasty, winning four times in five seasons in the early 2000s, including an 86-game unbeaten streak.
It was, quite an amazing time, that’s for sure. But before it all began was a different feeling.
“The girls were gonna be in the way now. They were gonna take up ice time from the boys,” Palmquist said. “And just, ‘What are girls doing playing hockey?’ I know a lot of my male counterparts I’m sure felt that way. And even as a new person getting into it, I was unsure where it was gonna go,” he said.
Palmquist himself had applied for the boys’ head coaching job at South St. Paul. When he didn’t get it, they offered him the chance to start the girls’ program.
He was unsure about it, but he took a chance.
“You know what, there’s a plan I think for each one of us in our lives, and for me, at the time, it just was a big step, a big leap of faith, what I was going to do,” he said.
There’s now 25 years of evidence it was the right one, and his team is still competitive as ever.
South St. Paul got its 500th win earlier this season. It’s currently ranked number four in the state.
South St. Paul is not Edina, Minnetonka, Breck, Blake, or Lakeville. It’s a blue-collar town. How have they sustained success when they are different than a lot of your peers in the metro area?
“I think it says a lot about the kind of kids that we have in South St. Paul. They are hardworking. They’re relentless, they have a never-give-up attitude. And as a coach, you can’t ask for much more than that. They’re willing to pay the price. And having history and tradition, it means something to play for the Packers.”
And to coach them. Twenty-five years in, Palmquist has no plans to stop anytime soon.
“I love it today as much as I did 25 years ago, and I couldn’t ask for a better 25 years here at South St. Paul, so it’s been great,” Palmquist said.