Gophers’ Taylor Heise positioning herself for serious Kazmaier Award consideration
Senior is leading the nation with 22 goals and 51 points
MINNEAPOLIS -- Taylor Heise insists she didn’t begin the season thinking about winning the Patty Kazmaier Award. The University of Minnesota Gophers center also contends it remains that way, even if she enters a weekend series against St. Cloud State leading the nation with 22 goals and 51 points.
“That’s not my thought,” the senior said Tuesday. “My thought’s winning the national championship, and if (the award) were to come along with it, like, great. But at the end of the day, I came here to win a national championship, and I haven’t gotten that yet. That’s my goal this year.”
The ballots, which include 10 semifinalists for the award given annually to the nation’s top women’s hockey player, already have been sent to coaches. Last year, the list of 10 was released on Feb. 25, with three finalists announced on March 17.
The Kazmaier Award tends to skew East — the past four winners have been from East Coast programs — but right now Heise is the best player on the best team. No. 1-ranked Minnesota (22-7-1) heads into Friday’s 3 p.m. puck drop at Herb Brooks Center with a 5-1-2 record against Top 10 teams since Dec. 3.
Last year, Minnesota senior Grace Zumwinkle, now playing for Team USA in Beijing, joined Wisconsin forward Daryl Watts and Northeastern goaltender Aerin Frankel as finalists, with Frankel named the winner on March 27.
Gophers coach Brad Frost has coached two Kazmaier winners, Amanda Kessel as a head coach and Krissy Wendell as an assistant for Laura Halderson. Heise, he said, is in that company.
“She’s dominant every single time she’s on the ice,” Frost said. “She’s a goal-scorer, she’s a playmaker, she’s a penalty-killer, she’s a power-play kid, she’s our vocal leader. You name it, she’s been able to do things this year and do things really, really well.”
Heise finished third in scoring (7-9–16) to linemates Zumwinkle and her fellow Olympian Abbey Murphy last season, when the Gophers finished 11-8-1 and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time 13 years.
“I think her coming in, especially with us getting denied the (NCAA) tournament last year, she was very motivated coming in,” Frost said. “I think she knew she had a little more in the tank as far as her potential, and now it’s coming to fruition.”
Heise, Minnesota’s Ms. Hockey at Red Wing in 2018, will have stiff competition. Frankel is back as a fifth-year senior and leads all of women’s hockey with a 1.04 goals-against average and .957 save percentage in 22 games. In the WCHA, Ohio State’s Sophie Jaques leads the nation in points per game (1.80), and Minnesota Duluth senior Gabbie Hughes of Lino Lakes is second (1.77).
“I’ve had games, in certain seasons, where I haven’t had a point and it’s been my best game,” Heise said. “I want to be the most dominant player on the ice every single game, no matter what the score is, and if things come along with it — accolades like that — that’s fun and all, but playing with my best friends is the best time ever.”
Because St. Cloud State plays on an Olympic ice sheet, the Gophers will practice Thursday on the big ice sheet at 3M Arena at Mariucci. … Gophers senior blue liner Emily Brown was named WCHA defender of the week after last weekend’s sweep of Bemidji State. Freshman wing Peyton Hemp won her second WCHA rookie of the week award.