The Minnesota franchise in the new Professional Women's Hockey League on Monday made U.S. national team member and former Gophers star Taylor Heise the league's first overall pick.
Heise, who is from Lake City and played high school hockey for Red Wing, was a two-time collegiate All-America selection and won the 2022 Patty Kazmaier Award, given to the nation's top player. A "power" forward with a heavy shot, she scored 30 goals last season.
"I'm sweating right now," Heise said. "Minnesota, it's my home. Everyone I love is there, and it's the State of Hockey. 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."
She spoke on stage in Toronto after her home-state team chose her first in the 15-round, 90-player draft. Women's sports pioneer and PWHL advisory board member Billie Jean King announced that first pick.
"It's just an iconic moment that some people didn't expect would happen or ever think would happen, for us," Heise said. "We had faith we'd get what we deserved one day, and today is that day."
While at the U, Heise played for then-Gophers assistant coach Natalie Darwitz, who is now the general manager of Minnesota's PWHL team.
Darwitz made Heise that historic first pick and kept taking Minnesotans, mixing in key players from elsewhere, too. Among the Minnesotans she selected: former Gophers forward Grace Zumwinkle (13th overall) and former Lakeville North and Minnesota Duluth defender Maggie Flaherty (24th overall).
One notable Minnesotan who got away: Hannah Brandt. Boston swooped in and grabbed the U.S. Olympian and former Gophers star with the 27th overall pick.
With the No. 12 pick — the final selection of the second round — Minnesota drafted goalkeeper Nicole Hensley, a Colorado native who has played for Team USA in the past two Olympic Games and has lived in the Twin Cities since 2020.
Nine rounds later, Darwitz added another goalie, Amanda Leveille, an NCAA champion with the Gophers and Isobel Cup champion with the Minnesota Whitecaps in 2019.
The Whitecaps folded this year, along with the rest of the Premier Hockey Federation, when Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Mark Walter, and his wife, Kimbra, purchased that league's assets.
The new PWHL has six teams — Boston, New York, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Minnesota — and will begin a 24-game regular season in January 2024.
Before the draft, teams were allowed to sign three foundational free agents. Minnesota grabbed three Olympians who have been world championship teammates with Heise: Lee Stecklein, Kelly Pannek and Kendall Coyne Schofield.
Minnesota won the first overall pick in a draft lottery. The franchise wound up drafting four former Whitecaps players: Denisa Krizova (48th overall), Sidney Morin (49th overall), Liz Schepers (73rd overall) and Sydney Brodt (85th overall).
Heise, 23, won a gold medal with the U.S. team at the 2023 IIHF Women's World Championship and a silver with it in 2022. On Monday, she walked along the purple carpet in Toronto, with little girls there to welcome members of the new league.
"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.
"It was amazing to have Billie Jean King endorse us and realize we do deserve what we get here. This league is going to be one to reckon with."
Minnesota's PWHL draft picks
Round, Name, Position, Hometown
1 Taylor Heise C Lake City, Minn.
2 Nicole Hensley G Lakewood, Colo.
3 Grace Zumwinkle F Excelsior
4 Maggie Flaherty D Lakeville
5 Susanna Tapani F Laitila, Finland
6 Clair DeGeorge F Anchorage, Ala.
7 Natalie Buchbinder D Fairport, N.Y.
8 Denisa Krizova F Horni Cerekev, Czech Republic
9 Sidney Morin D Chanhassen
10 Sophia Kunin F Wayzata
11 Amanda Leveille G Kingston, Ont.
12 Michela Cava F Thunder Bay, Ont.
13 Liz Schepers F Mound
14 Minttu Tuominen D Helsinki, Finland
15 Sydney Brodt F North Oaks