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John’s Journal: Dave Palmquist Is The Dean Of Girls Hockey Coaches

From Program’s Start In 1994, South St. Paul Has Been In Great Hands

Posted: Saturday, February 25, 2023 - 1:49 PM






Dave Palmquist, as he has been doing for nearly three decades, was encouraging his players in the middle of a game.

“We’ve gotta be cool and calm here, girls. Cool and calm.”

This statement came with under six minutes remaining in regulation of Saturday morning’s third-place game in the Class A state hockey tournament at Xcel Energy Center. Palmquist’s South St. Paul Packers and the Proctor/Hermantown Mirage were tied 2-2.

When regulation time ended in the same deadlock, the players listened to their coach as they gathered on the bench.

“I’m so proud of you girls! Keep it up! It doesn’t get much better than this, huh?”

The Packers got the 3-2 win with sophomore Bailey Vesper scoring in overtime, her third goal of the game. Sophomores Lily Pachl and Alida Ahern assisted on Bailey’s first and third goals, with senior Sarah Wincentsen getting the assist on goal No. 2.

The postgame smiles were large and the cheers were exuberant. Before the door to the Packers’ locker room – the same locker room used by visiting NHL teams -- was closed, Palmquist stood in front of the seated players and said, “I’m so proud of you guys. Give it up!” Everyone applauded.

There were hugs and tears because the season, the journey, had come to an end. The Packers finished with a record of 23-6-1. It was the 977th game in Palmquist’s coaching career, giving him an overall record of 653-291-33.

That’s a lot of hockey, and rightfully so. Palmquist, 59, was hired when South St. Paul started playing girls hockey in 1994-95, the year when it became an official MSHSL sport. He’s the only original head coach to still be on the job, and he has no plans to stop.

“They always say don't quit something you still love, and I still love it,” he said. “The society wants to say it's getting tougher and tougher, but the kids need more love and that's why I want to be around them. There are kids that you can't give up on, you’ve got to keep loving them. And I feel like it's my calling and what I need to do.”

Indeed, it is his calling. And how it happened is an example of the turns that life can take. Palmquist, a graduate of Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis, had coached boys hockey at his alma mater for seven years when he applied for the job as boys hockey coach at South St. Paul. He wasn’t hired, but a short time later the Packers were looking for a coach to lead their new girls program.

Tim Dittberner, now the superintendent at New Prague, was in his second year as the South St. Paul athletic director in 1994. When the decision was made to start a girls team, they had their candidate.

“We recruited him really hard,” said Dittberner. “We had a teaching position open for him, we put the full-court press on him and he finally said yes.”

Palmquist, a middle school physical education teacher, also coaches boys golf. He loves everything about what he does and can’t imagine changing a thing.

“I’ve just been a teacher and a coach, I don't know anything different,” he said. “I wouldn’t even know how to pull myself out of it. I don't know how to end because honestly, as challenging as it can be at times, I just love the kids so much.”

South St. Paul is a legendary program. The Packers finished second in the inaugural four-team state tournament in 1995, losing in the title game to Apple Valley 2-0 at Aldrich Arena. Their 2023 trip to state is the 17th in history; the Packers won state championships in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006, with second-place finishes in 2011 and 2012.

Palmquist was among the inaugural inductees into the Minnesota Girls Hockey Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2013. And now, a decade later, he remains in place.

“Yesterday I was talking to a friend from South St. Paul,” said Dittberner. “I mentioned how awesome it was for them to be in the state tournament and he said, ‘Congrats, that was a great hire.’ "

--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected] 

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Class A Girls Hockey State Championship: Warroad 3, Orono 1