Before she stepped on the ice for her very first professional hockey game on Monday, Taylor Heise tried to remind herself she was going out to play a kids’ game.
As her Minnesota team lined up against Ottawa in pre-season Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) action in Utica, N.Y., Heise thought about how long she’d dreamed of this moment.
“I need to go out there and have fun,” Heise said, describing her thought process before that first game.
“I sometimes get caught up in the little details of things. That’s definitely been something I’ve been trying to fix and focus.”
It didn’t take long for the first-game jitters to dissipate. Heise scored Minnesota’s first goal in the second period. After two pre-season games, she has three goals to her name.
WATCH | PWHL’s top pick Heise turning heads in pre-season play:
It’s the culmination of a whirlwind autumn for 23-year-old Heise, who was the PWHL’s first overall pick at the league’s inaugural draft in September.
Her selection marked a historic moment for the new league, and you couldn’t have scripted it better for the Lake City, Minn., native to go to her hometown team.
A few months later, she was named MVP of the Women’s World Championship in Denmark, after leading the tournament in scoring with seven goals and 11 assists.
Now, Heise can call herself a pro league player, a fact she has to remind herself of all the time.
“I sometimes forget to say it,” she said.
“But it’s an amazing feeling. To work as hard as we all do, to have this accomplishment now to say we’re professional is really awesome. It makes the hard work worth it.”
Heise pots a pair vs. Toronto
For Heise, the pressure that comes along with being the first overall pick isn’t something that gets to her. She sees it as a privilege.
She credits her parents with putting the title of first overall in perspective for her.
“It happened, it’s important and we’re going to forever remember it,” Heise said. “But I’m also going to take that with a grain of salt.”
In two pre-season games, Heise has shown the skill to warrant her draft-day buzz.
On Tuesday, her team climbed back from a deficit for the second day in a row, beating Toronto 5-4 at the end of regulation.
With Minnesota trailing by one goal in the second, Minnesota got a two-player advantage after forward Susanna Tapani went into the net hard following some after-whistle chippiness. Tapani left the game and didn’t return.
As she stepped on the ice for the two-player advantage, Heise felt motivated by the emotion of seeing Tapani go off injured.
“I told [forward Kelly Pannek] on the bench, I just need one cut across the ice and that’s my move,” Heise said after the game.
She kept her word. Toward the end of the power play, Heise put the puck over the glove of Minnesota goalie Maddie Rooney, tying the game.
A second Heise goal followed in the third period, giving Minnesota the lead. Grace Zumwinkle, Lee Stecklein and Denise Křížová also added goals for Minnesota.
TAYLOR TIES IT 🔥 <a href=”https://t.co/MjVCrTdlNh”>pic.twitter.com/MjVCrTdlNh</a>
Minnesota GM Natalie Darwitz believes Heise is going to be one of the best players in the world.
“With the puck, obviously she’s dynamic and most importantly, she’s a heck of a teammate and does things on and off the ice the right way,” Dawritz said.
Abby Boreen spent five years playing with Heise at the University of Minnesota, primarily on the same line.
Speaking of skill, she singled out Heise’s hockey IQ and ability to make plays all over the ice.
“Just the quick movements with her feet and everything like that, I think that’s what makes her a skilled player,” she said.
Boreen is hoping to keep playing with Heise this year. She’s in her second year of pharmacy school, but vying for a job as one of two of Minnesota’s reserve players. She’s made a case this week, with a goal and an assist in a win over Ottawa on Monday.
Heise described Boreen as someone she looks up to.
“She has the work ethic of someone I’ve never met, in school, out of school,” Heise said.
Minnesota dealing with injuries
Darwitz didn’t like the after-whistle play that led to Tapani’s injury on Tuesday.
Over two games, Minnesota has lost three players to injury, with defender Sydney Brodt leaving the game with a lower-body injury on Monday and forward Grace Zumwinkle going off with a shoulder injury in overtime on Tuesday. (All pre-season PWHL games go to 3-on-3 overtime and a shootout, regardless of the score at the end of regulation.)
“One of them was extra-curricular,” Darwitz said, referring to Tapani’s injury. “That stuff needs to be nipped in the bud right now for this league to be successful and that stuff can’t happen.”
With the deadline approaching to set her final roster by Dec. 11, the injuries throw a wrench in things. Darwitz said she’ll likely get a crash course in how the league’s injury reserve process is going to work.
Teams will make their final cuts this week, with a waiver period opening on Dec. 8. The final rosters due on Dec. 11 must have 23 players under contract and two reserve players.
The PWHL will continue its pre-season evaluation camp in Utica with several off-ice meetings for players and staff on Wednesday.
Pre-season game action resumes Thursday, as does the PWHL’s experimentation with different rules, as the league prepares for regular season puck drop in Toronto on Jan. 1. On Thursday, players won’t be allowed to ice the puck while shorthanded.
Montreal defeats Boston
Montreal beats Boston in the second pre-season game on Tuesday, a day after dropping its first pre-season contest to New York.
Montreal head coach Kori Cheverie was happier with her team’s effort on Tuesday. Montreal led 3-1 at the end of regulation, with Boston adding a tally by winning the shootout that happens at the end of every PWHL pre-season game.
“A more complete game by our group,” Cheverie said.
The game marked the first start for goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens, who was dealing with an injury at the beginning of training camp.
Having her in net brought a sense of calmness to the team, Cheverie said.
“She plays the puck really well so it’s kind of like a third D for us back there,” she said. “She tends to calm some storms for [us]. It’s great having her back.”
Montreal forward Ann-Sophie Bettez had a goal and an assist in the game. Her assist came on a goal by Jillian Dempsey, who is playing in Montreal for the first time after spending the first 10 years of her career on Boston teams.
Bettez, who’s played her entire career in Montreal, said she and Dempsey have put their Montreal-Boston rivalry aside to become teammates.
“It was a great opportunity to be on the power-play with her today and then to be able to get an assist on her goal,” Bettez said. “I’m happy she was able to put the puck in the net against Boston. It’s kind of cool.”