Growing up in Red Wing, Minnesota, center Taylor Heise and her family played basketball.
One day, when Heise was in first grade, she received an invitation in the mail to an outdoor hockey game. That experience playing outdoors many years ago motivated her to stick to the ice permanently.
Heise played with her brothers on an outdoor rink near her house. She said her parents didn't understand why she wanted to play hockey at first, but now they're in full support of her career.
"The second I put on skates, I [said], 'This is so much fun,'" Heise said.
That dream led Heise to the University of Minnesota, where she has made an immediate impact for the Gophers offensively. Heise has scored three times this season as Minnesota averages 4.33 goals per game. She scored twice in Minnesota's 6-2 victory over St. Cloud State on Oct. 12.
Coming into her freshman season, Heise was named the WCHA Preseason Rookie of the Year. She also won the 2018 Minnesota Ms. Hockey Award, which is the highest honor given to a high school hockey player.
Head coach Brad Frost said Heise has lived up to the hype surrounding her.
"She's been a huge factor for us," Frost said. "She's been playing center, which is an important role for our team. She's on our first power-play [unit]. We expect her to be a major contributor."
Heise began the season centering a line consisting of wingers Taylor Williamson and Alex Woken. Williamson assisted on Heise's first collegiate goal on Sept. 30. Now, Heise plays on a line with Woken and fellow freshman Emily Oden.
Heise said she likes to play on different lines in order to create better team chemistry.
"It helps me create a relationship with them personally and as a line," she said. "[Williamson] taught me so many things about the game and just having fun out there and smiling. Being able to play with different people is positive."
Heise has a local connection to the Gophers: both she and left winger Nicole Schammel played for Red Wing High School. The pair sit next to each other in the locker room.
Heise said she was in junior high when Schammel committed to play for Minnesota State-Mankato. Schammel transferred to Minnesota after her freshman season.
"She's so welcoming and caring," Heise said. "Before I came in, I asked her a ton of questions. She always had a great answer for me. I love being around her, she's got a great attitude."
When she's not practicing on Minnesota's first power-play unit or completing other offensive drills, Heise is working on shot blocking and defensive zone coverage. She said Minnesota's coaches, especially Frost, are there to make sure that players succeed without trying to make them feel uncomfortable.
"They tell us what to do most of the time," she said. "They want us to have the best time we can so they're there to make that happen."
Woken said Heise has adjusted well to the speed and skill of collegiate hockey.
"That's one of the hardest parts is getting caught up to speed and the pace of play," Woken said. "She's always eager to come to practice, she has a great shot, she's fast — she has it all."