Zach Palmquist wasn’t the biggest or tallest kid on the block, so he didn’t have to look far for an idol growing up in South Saint Paul.
“Phil Housley went to my high school,” Palmquist said. “Growing up, we all knew about him and heard about him. He was a 5-10, 185-pound defenseman. I really liked watching him play.”
Palmquist, at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, has overcome his lack of prototypical size to become one of the top defensemen in the country as he begins his senior season at Minnesota State University this fall, where the Mavericks are expected to ice one of their best teams ever.
While Palmquist has a ways to go before becoming as good as the Hall of Famer from his hometown, it’s not difficult to see the similarities in how they play the game. Palmquist, the son South Saint Paul High School girls coach Dave Palmquist, said he watched film of Housley growing up and tried to emulate his play.
“Someone who is a smooth skater, moves the puck really well,” Palmquist said. “I tried to take as much away from him as possible.”
It’s worked. Palmquist was second among all Western Collegiate Hockey Association defensemen last season with 19 points in 28 league games. He finished the year with four goals and 17 assists and was an All-WCHA First Team pick.
His 67 points through three seasons is eighth among Division I scoring for a defenseman at MSU, a list Palmquist will certainly rocket up this season.
Minutes played isn’t a statistic at the collegiate level, but Palmquist often sees at least 30 minutes a night and plays on all special teams. He’s never missed a game, entering this season with 120 consecutive games played.
Not bad for a kid who heard it all from coaches and opponents growing up.
“Not going to be big enough, not going to be strong enough,” Palmquist said. “I’m going to keep pushing and try and prove some people wrong.”
For Palmquist, this week’s development camp was the third of his career and first with the Wild. Undrafted, Palmquist certainly has a future in the game somewhere after his time with the Mavericks is done. Where, is yet to be determined.
For now, Palmquist said he’s tried to take as much as he can from these experiences. After going to Philadelphia’s camp following his freshman season and to San Jose’s after his sophomore, Palmquist was one of the wily vets in the locker room the last week.
“I remember going in after my freshman year of college and thinking how big of a learning curve that was,” Palmquist said. “I had never really experienced the upper levels of hockey before. Now, being at my third camp, I feel like I’ve been around the block a little bit. Definitely coming in a little more comfortable but still taking away as much as I can and still learning.”
Palmquist made an impression over the course of the week and played much of the time during Monday’s scrimmage as the left side partner of Wild 2012 first-round pick Matt Dumba. Palmquist also scored in the shootout following the scrimmage. He said having the opportunity to attend a camp with the Wild was a special one.
“It was unbelievable. When I got the opportunity to come to this camp, I couldn’t say no,” Palmquist said. “Watching this team growing up and finally being able to put on a practice jersey with the Wild logo, it’s a pretty cool thing. Having my family and friends here close by, it’s pretty neat that they were able to come out and watch and be a part of this with me.”
Where the future lies beyond next season is a mystery for Palmquist, but the next 12 months could certainly be an exciting time. While professional hockey looms for him, Palmquist said there is still plenty of unfinished business to take care of in Mankato. A loss to Massachusetts-Lowell and fellow developmental camper and defenseman Christian Folin in the NCAA Tournament in March is still fresh in Palmquist’s head.
“Losing first round in the NCAAs the last two years, it kind of hurts us a little bit and it’s still in the back of our minds,” Palmquist said. “That’s something that we want to overcome this year.
“We can take a lot of positives from that UMass-Lowell game knowing that we’re one of the best teams in the country. We can hang with all of them. If we take that into next season, I think we’re going to be fine.”