Hill Murray takes on Eastview in the quarter finals of the 2015 MN State High School Girls Hockey tournament.
ST. PAUL, Minn. – The opening puck drop in Wednesday’s Class A quarterfinal game between Blake and Hutchinson officially kicked off the third decade of the Minnesota State High School Girl’s Hockey Tournament.
A lot has changed since the first tourney was staged at Aldrich Arena in 1995. Dave Palmquist was behind the bench of the South St. Paul Packers in that year’s championship game (which the Packers lost to Apple Valley) and is still coaching 21 years later. His clubs have made the tourney 14 times, playing in seven championship games as the big show moved from Aldrich to the State Fair Coliseum, then to the U of M’s Ridder Arena and the Xcel Energy Center.
More important to the game of girls’ hockey than the venue, Palmquist says, is that the overall skill level of skaters has evolved dramatically. Gone are the days that a single top end player like Eagan’s Natalie Darwitz, Roseville’s Brodt sisters or Krissy Wendell of Park Center can completely dominate a game. “Instead of the single superstars, you have way more “better” players throughout the lineup,” Palmquist says. “Top end players are devoting way more time (to the game) than they used to.”
Palmquist credits the improvement to female skaters starting young and moving up through the ranks with quality coaching. “Time, effort, patience and most importantly, teaching,” he insists. Girls are skating year-around, attending development camps and playing Triple A hockey during the summer months.
That’s not to say there’s not more room for improvement. Palmquist believes that communities and coaches must continue to grow the game, bringing more girls to the rink and encouraging them to stick with it. He also thinks the girls themselves have to take ownership of their development, learning about the nuances of the game and watching and learning from players and coaches who excel.
If the crowd at Thursday’s matinee between Hill Murray and Eastview was any indication, the improvement in the quality of the girls game is matched by a growing fan base. More than three-quarters of the lower bowl at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center was packed with proud parents and family members, and enthusiastic student sections. Hill Murray, second ranked in the big school bracket, took it to Eastview 6-1.
There is still a chasm between metro teams and most outstate teams, as was evidenced by the 9-0 whipping handed to Hutchinson by the girls from Blake. But as girls’ hockey continues to mature in Minnesota, the ice may level in that department as well.