Since the inaugural 1994-95 season for South St. Paul girls’ hockey, the Packers have made 13 state tournament appearances and captured four championships.

Coach Dave Palmquist has been around for all of it. When the program started, South St. Paul had a nucleus of strong-skating ringette players who adapted to hockey very well. They’ve been putting together winning seasons ever since.

“Tradition just means a lot at South St. Paul,” Palmquist said. “I think every year, the next group of girls step up. They don’t want to be the ones that let down the program.

While participation numbers aren’t large — 26 skaters and three goalies arrived at tryouts last Monday — the foundation remains strong. It goes all the way down to the commitment and sacrifice shown in youth hockey.

“It takes a lot of kids and great families to make it a great program,” Palmquist said. “It wouldn’t have happened without a lot of people putting in a lot of time and a lot of effort into it. It’s a small town. I know all these kids and families. I think that’s a real benefit.”

Palmquist was recognized recently for his contributions to the game. He was inducted into the first class of the Minnesota Girls Hockey Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame.

“I didn’t get into it to be a hall of fame coach,” Palmquist said. “I just love to coach. I love the kids. That was just a really neat bonus. Certainly very flattering and humbling.”

Winning is also a nice bonus.

The Packers lost just two seniors off last season’s state tournament team.

Loaded first line

All three captains are on the top line: Abby Palmquist, Brigette Miller and Maddie DeSmith.

Abby Palmquist, the coach’s daughter, began playing varsity hockey in eighth grade. She has a high hockey IQ. Miller is one of the fastest players in the state. DeSmith is a strong, tough winger who can protect and shoot the puck with authority.

“It’s a line that has a good balance of strength, power and smarts,” coach Palmquist said. “It will be a fun line to work with this year.”

Returning in goal is junior Sydney Conley, a veteran of two state tournaments.

“As a coach, you can’t put a value on having a kid like that between the pipes,” Palmquist said.

“She works so hard at hockey and she’s been rewarded with great play at big moments for us. We expect her to have a great year.”

Anna Barlow is one of the premier defensemen in the state. The junior has played in four state tournaments. Barlow, who has several Division I suitors, is strong, smart and shoots the puck hard. Barlow beats the first girl on almost every breakout to spearhead the Packers’ rush.

“She’s what every coach would want in a defenseman,” Palmquist said. “She doesn’t get beat in her own end, but she can bring it to the other end. She’s just an all-around great player.”

It’s easy for the coaching staff to characterize this group. Year in and year out, the team on and off the ice embodies the attitude and work ethic of the community they live in.

“They’re all Packers. They’re all South St. Paul kids,” Palmquist said. “We just have a lot of grit and experience. That’s their identity. They all know what it takes to be successful.”