South St. Paul goaltender Gary McAlpine kissed teammate Doug Woog after the freshman scored the lone goal in the Packers' 1959 state tournament quarterfinal victory against Minneapolis Patrick Henry. Photo by Paul Siegel/Minneapolis Tribune

From 1945-1996, no team reached the Minnesota high school boys' hockey state tournament more often than South St. Paul.

The Packers never won the big one in 28 trips overall. But the meatpacking town earned its way into state tournament history with all of those appearances and some of the finest players of their respective eras: Doug Woog, Terry Abram, Jim Carter, Warren Miller and the incomparable Phil Housley.

The tradition is being celebrated this season, the 75th of South St. Paul hockey. The big day is Jan. 4, which begins with the South St. Paul junior varsity playing at 1 p.m., followed by the varsity’s 3 p.m. tilt with Rochester Century and an alumni game at 5 p.m. All the action takes place at Doug Woog Arena.

“To be part of this is a great thing,” said first-year Packers’ head coach Pete Schultz, a 1994 South St. Paul graduate and long-time assistant football coach. Schultz helped the Packers’ to the state hockey tournament as a senior and now teaches history at the high school. “It’s about pride and it runs deep.”

Schultz was in kindergarten challenging Housley and Tom Stiles to games of knee hockey when the duo would come by the house to hang out with Schultz’s older siblings.

Schultz and Kevin Gellerman, a Packers’ hockey dad whose wife, Pati, grew up in South St. Paul are pulling together statistics, stories and other tidbits – Did you know players wore football jersey until 1953? – as part of the celebration. Teamwear includes a commemorative logo. In addition, a 70-foot mural is being installed on the north wall of Doug Woog Arena.

The mural will include both the boys’ and girls’ programs. South St. Paul became an early dynasty in the girls’ game, winning state titles in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006.

“Being adopted into it, I’ve learned South St. Paul is a blue-collar town of hockey where the people take pride in working hard and grinding it out,” Gellerman said. “South St. Paul is one of the storied hockey programs in Minnesota, and we are proud of what we have accomplished.

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