In 1994, a young man stood behind the bench as a head coach as the first girls hockey season in Minnesota high school history began. His name was Dave Palmquist and he’s still behind the bench at South St. Paul. He’s the last of a breed, the last coach standing from the group that got girls hockey off the ground all those years ago.
Palmquist, who will be 53 next week, has been coaching the Packers for about as long as anyone can remember … certainly longer than any of his current players have been alive. The program he built from scratch has earned a reputation for hard work, competitive spirit and playing the game the right way.
South St. Paul owns four state championships (2002, 2003, 2005, 2006) and has made three other appearances in championship games during a record 14 trips to state. Do the math: The Packers have played in title games in half of their state appearances. The team’s record under Palmquist is 474-146-22, but the victories on the ice are much less important than the victories for his players later in life.
“You realize those relationships are the most important thing,” he said. “You want the players to look back down the road and say it was a positive experience. That’s the most important thing to me. We want good kids who develop character. I love those relationships.”
Over the years, his players have respected the program’s long-standing tradition as well as its long-standing coach.
“He’s a great guy,” said current junior forward Mackenna Emery. “He’s always there for us when we need something. And the tradition means a lot to me. I would love to make it back to the state tournament at least once before my career is done. I was always looking up to all those girls and I wanted to be them one day.”
Junior defender Brooke Deering said Palmquist “holds everyone accountable and he’s super passionate. He is always working for the better of the team, making sure every girl has what they need whether it’s on a hockey level or a personal level. He’s there for everyone on the team, always.”
Palmquist has been a coach most of his life, even acting as a pseudo-coach with his friends growing up in Columbia Heights; he was the kid who organized games on outdoor ice and driveways.
After graduating from Minnehaha Academy and Bethel College, he returned to Minnehaha as a teacher and assistant boys hockey coach at age 23. A year later he became the head coach and was there for seven years.
He applied for the boys head-coaching position at St. South Paul and was not hired, but school officials called him about another opportunity: becoming the first coach of the girls hockey team. He had no experience in coaching girls, and admits that it was a tough transition at first.
“For my family’s sake it was the right thing to go to South St. Paul,” he said. “I needed to get into public education, finances was a part of it. But I was so involved in the boys hockey coaches association and girls hockey was new. People asked, ‘What’s going on? Why are you leaving?’
“So many of the men have gone over to the girls side, and you see that at the college level, too,” Palmquist said, mentioning University of Minnesota women’s hockey coach Brad Frost, a former assistant men’s hockey coach at Bethel, and Wisconsin women’s hockey coach Brad Johnson, one-time boys high school coach and men’s assistant with the Badgers.
“We found out that it’s a pretty neat thing,” Palmquist said. “The girls are passionate about it and it’s really fun.”
The majority of girls high school hockey coaches are men, and Palmquist said he would like to see more females in those positions. His staff includes junior varsity coaches and former Packers players Jamie Shephard and Maggie Fisher (the team’s career points leader).
“They are wonderful additions,” he said. “They are so valuable. I hope someday they want to be head coaches. These girls need good female role models in front of them.”
Palmquist’s varsity assistants are Corey McGinn and Josh Palmquist, the coach’s son.
“I get to see a whole different side of him. He’s a dedicated person and a dedicated coach,” said Josh, 27. “More so than anything on the ice, he cares about these girls off the ice. He’s an educator and a coach first. He cares deeply about these girls. He wants them to be great hockey players but more importantly great people off the ice. That’s the same thing he does as a father, too.”
Josh is one of four children of Dave and Karen Palmquist. Zach played hockey at Minnesota State Mankato and is currently with the Iowa Wild, the Minnesota Wild’s minor league affiliate. Son Luke played tennis at Bethel and daughter Abby is a student there now. The day after Abby was born, the entire Packers girls hockey team came to see her in the hospital. She ended up playing for her dad.
Asked about his favorite memories, Dave Palmquist -- who in 2013 was among the inaugural inductees into the Minnesota Girls Hockey Coaches Association Hall of Fame -- first said there were too many to pick out one or two. Then he talked about his family.
“All the championships were so awesome, but one highlight was coaching my daughter for five years, having her play in the state tournament for four years and watching her score against Warroad in a championship game. Coaching with Josh is great and Abby wants to coach when she’s done at Bethel. Family’s everything with me. That’s been a real blessing.”
Palmquist is familiar to fans who watch the state hockey tournaments on television. He has been an analyst as part of the KSTC-TV in-arena studio crew for more than a decade. His first TV appearance was at the 2006 girls state tournament, which his team won. In that year’s boys state tourney, Palmquist was asked to fill in when a scheduled analyst couldn’t be there. And he’s been there ever since.
That's just like his coaching career, where he’s been since 1994. And he has no plans to bow out.
“I’m a career coach, I don’t see any end to it,” he said. “There’s no end in sight for me as long as I feel good and I’m passionate about it.
“This is as much fun as I’ve ever had. I don’t need to win championships to have fun. I just want to develop good kids and have a good time. I don’t care if I win another game.”
BY THE NUMBERS
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