After growing up in Lake City, Minnesota, and playing five seasons at the University of Minnesota, Taylor Heise is set to stay in the State of Hockey.
Heise made history on Monday in Toronto at the CBC Headquarters when Minnesota selected her first overall in the inaugural draft of the newly formed Professional Women’s Hockey League
Heise is coming off a season where she was a first-team All-American, won her second-straight WCHA Forward of the Year award and led the country in goals (30), was second in points (67) and third in assists (37) after playing in 39 games for the Gophers.
It was an overwhelming moment for Heise. The normally verbose forward said it was hard to describe what she was feeling, but said she was writing things down and taking pictures to help her remember and document the momentous day.
“It’s an unreal feeling,” Heise said. “To be here and see all the ladies here that I play against and play with every single day is awesome. I think it’s something that I’m going to look forward to and look back on my entire life. I’m just really grateful to be here.”
The 23-year-old made her senior national team debut with Team USA at the 2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship and did so with a bang, scoring seven goals and tallying 11 assists in seven games. Those 18 points put her second for the most points by a player in a single tournament. For her efforts, she was named the tournament’s best forward, tournament MVP and to the media all-star team, a trifecta she also earned in 2018 at the U18 IIHF Women’s World Championships, where she captained the U.S. to a gold medal.
Heise seemed an obvious top pick when it was announced that Minnesota would be selecting first. The team’s GM, Natalie Darwitz, spent the past two seasons as an assistant coach for the University of Minnesota — also her alma mater.
Heise is a strong, dynamic skater that’s as skilled crashing the net as she is picking a corner with a wrister. Strong on her skates and a menace against the boards and in the corners, she’s just as likely to send a perfectly placed pass to an open teammate as she is to unleash her own stellar shot.
An impressive 200-foot player, Heise has been known to block a shot in the defensive zone and promptly break out down the ice, taking the puck the other way. Smooth hands and a great touch on the puck serve her well in front of the net, but also in the faceoff circle.
Women’s sports icon and PWHL Board member Billie Jean King announced Heise’s selection. King has been instrumental in first the PWHPA, and now PWHL’s formation.
“To have Billie Jean King endorse us … and really respect what we do is something that means the world to all of us,” Heise said. “To have people that truly support us and love us and want to give us the opportunities we deserve is something that we could only dream of and now we have it.
I'm really excited for us to have that.”
As part of the draft event in Toronto, players walked a purple carpet lined with girls in their own youth hockey jerseys. On a surreal day, the young players drove home for Heise the importance and impact of not just the draft, but the league overall.
"That's something I would have done," Heise said. "Team Canada and Team USA played each other in Minnesota, and I remember standing and waiting for an hour for autographs. Having little girls — they're going to have this opportunity; this is going to be here forever, and I want them to know this is an opportunity too.”
The PWHL is set to play a 24-game regular season beginning in January 2024. Heise was the first of 90 players selected from a pool of 268 draft-eligible women. She joins fellow former Golden Gophers and national team players Kelly Pannek and Lee Stecklein on Minnesota’s roster. They, along with Kendall Coyne-Schofield, were signed as the franchise’s foundational players during the league’s 10-day free agent period prior to the draft.
Heise is excited to play alongside those familiar faces again.
“I’m really excited to get started. Minnesota is my home. Everyone I love is there and it’s the state of hockey,” Heise said. “I'm just really honored that I am able to play and continue to show little girls that anything is possible if you keep working hard."
“With Minnesota, we have everything we need to start. Learning and growing is what we’re going to do, but I think we have the creativity to go wherever we want.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.