BSU women's hockey: Gophers ready to ‘show the nation what we have’ as they take on Beavers
Second-ranked Minnesota opens season against WCHA rival Bemidji State at Ridder Arena. Puck drop is set for 6 p.m.
MINNEAPOLIS -- University of Minnesota women’s hockey coach Brad Frost added four 2022 Olympians to his roster this season, including his top forward in 2020-21, Grace Zumwinkle. But he’s not messing with his top line.
“Right now,” he said Wednesday, “they’re together.”
Fifth-year seniors Abigail Boreen, Catie Skaja and Taylor Heise will headline an impossibly deep Gophers lineup on Friday when the second-ranked Gophers begin their season against WCHA rival Bemidji State at Ridder Arena. Puck drop is set for 6 p.m.
“Obviously,” Frost said, “they showed some great chemistry last year and really played well off of each other.”
All three players had career years as the Gophers rebounded from a difficult season — they missed the NCAA tournament in 2020-21 for the first time since 2007 — and combined for 121 points, best in the nation. Heise led the nation with 66 points and won the Patty Kazmaier Award. Then, after being cut from the Olympic team tryouts, made her first senior Team USA roster.
She capped an astonishing 12 months by finishing with seven goals and 11 assists for the silver-medal winners and being named the tournament’s most valuable player.
“I think I was more ready for it because I didn’t get picked for the (Olympic) team,” she said.
The question now is what does Heise have in store for 2022-23?
“Shoot, she’s 22 years old, so I don’t think she’s reached her full potential,” Frost said. “But obviously the confidence that she gained from last year, and then being with the national team and being the MVP of the World Championships, I mean, she’s feeling good about herself and the way she plays.
“But she also knows that she’s only as good as she makes others. So, if she doesn’t make others around her better, she’s not good enough to do everything by herself — and she knows that.”
Heise and her linemates are a tight group. They lived together all last season, and even had surgery together after last season ended, Heise said. She had surgery to repair a double sports hernia, Skaka had knee surgery and Boreen had back surgery, she said.
“With the injuries we had, you couldn’t get surgery and you couldn’t fix them unless you had the time to take a break, like a good two, three months,” she said.
Asked if the line was physically compromised during the Gophers’ short NCAA tournament stay — they lost in their first game, a second-round matchup with eventual runner-up Minnesota Duluth at Ridder Arena — Heise said, “I wouldn’t say we were compromised; I think mentally we were very stable. I think body-wise, it’s very difficult to keep up with the fact that you’re going every day. It was forced time off for me, and it was much needed.”
Everyone is healthy now, playing together in exhibition victories over University of Manitoba and the Minnesota Whitecaps, and ready to play a real game. The Gophers are one of just two WCHA teams, along with St. Thomas, yet to have played a regular-season game.
First up are the Beavers, who swept Lindenwood in Bemidji and went 0-1-1 at No. 10 Clarkson in Potsdam, N.Y. It will mark the return for Olympians Zumwinkle and forward Abbey Murphy (USA), and the Minnesota debuts of Olympic forward Josefin Bouveng (Sweden) and blue liner Nelli Laitinen (Finland).
But it’s the player who just missed making the Olympics who will command the most attention at puck drop, and no one is more excited than Heise.
“I think we’re excited to show the nation what we have,” she said.