Myers: Heartbreak, Taylor's version, as Heise's college career ends on her 23rd birthday
The best player in college hockey last season, and the best player in the world last summer, Minnesota Gophers star Taylor Heise suffered through a gut-wrenching end to her time in maroon and gold.
DULUTH — If Minnesota Gophers star Taylor Heise lives to be 100 years old, she will still look back on a period of roughly 48 hours that she spent in Duluth as some of the toughest moments of her time on this goofy planet.
On Friday, Heise got the worst 23rd birthday present she could have imagined, when Wisconsin defender Caroline Harvey – a freshman from New Hampshire – scored in overtime, ending Heise’s storied college career. The Badgers’ 3-2 win sends them to Sunday's title game of the Women’s Frozen Four.
For Heise, the loss came one night after her younger brother Ryan’s high school hoops career ended with Lake City’s loss to Plainview-Elgin-Milville in their section final game.
After spending her birthday with friends and teammates, the on-ice part of the evening started off perfectly for Heise and the Gophers, as her team-leading 30th goal of the season gave Minnesota a first period lead. She was oh so close to doubling the advantage, trying and failing to cash in on a 2-on-0 rush to the net when Wisconsin goalie Cami Kronish made a pad save, just as Heise was chopped down and drew a penalty.
“We thought it was going to be ‘Patty with the hatty’ tonight,” joked Gophers defender Gracie Ostertag, revealing that Heise is sometimes playfully nicknamed after a trophy she won last season. (More on that later.)
Trailing in the third period, Heise huddled her teammates on the ice and delivered a pep talk, asking them to leave everything they had on the ice. They did, and the Gophers mounted a stirring rally to tie the game late and force overtime.
There they out-shot the Badgers 10-7, but gave up the only shot that counted in the end. There was stunned silence among the Gophers on the ice as the Wisconsin fans in the building hooted and hollered. Then Heise, as one of the team captains, re-grouped and headed to the handshake line – her last after one of the more distinguished careers in the history of this most distinguished of college hockey programs.
She will be back in the Twin Cities before too long, and is certain to have things like pro hockey and the Olympics in her future.
But before all that, in one final bit of gut-wrenching, Heise will have to watch a trophy that she already owns be given away to someone else.
On Saturday morning, USA Hockey will bestow the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award – given annually to the best player in women’s college hockey – to one of three finalists who hail from Ohio State, Northeastern and Colgate.
Heise, who won the trophy last season, produced numbers this season which are nearly identical to those that had her declared the nation’s best 12 months ago. She led her team to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2019. She was the team’s inspirational leader all season after playing the 2021-22 season with a massive chip on her shoulder.
In the summer of 2021, Heise went to USA Hockey’s training camp fully expecting to be named to the American entry in the 2022 Winter Olympics. She didn’t make the cut, and some said her 2022 Kazmaier was a direct result of her determination to show that her omission had been a mistake.
Last summer, Heise made the American team for the Women’s World Championships and was named the MVP of the tournament – facing off against the best female players on the planet. As one of the more dynamic forwards in American hockey, she will certainly get more chances to wear the red, white and blue.
And a year from now, and a year after that, she will almost certainly have birthday weekends that go much better than this one.