There’s an old adage that great hockey players aren’t born, they’re made.
And Red Wing’s Taylor Heise is a perfect example.
Heise enters her senior season as the frontrunner for the Ms. Hockey Award and leads our list of the state’s top 25 players. Coming off a season in which she scored 54 goals and tallied 80 points, Taylor isn’t focused on individual awards but is instead bent on getting back to the state tournament.
Last season the Wingers lost in the section 1A finals to Northfield 2-0. The year before they were ousted by Owatonna 4-3 in overtime in the section semifinals. That loss broke a string of five straight state tournament appearances for the Wingers, and in four of the five they lost in the state semi-finals to Class A powerhouses Blake or Breck.
This season’s success will depend largely on Heise, who is not just considered one of the top players to come through southern Minnesota, but one of the top to come through the State of Hockey and one of the top players in the country.
For someone who has reached such status in the hockey world, her hockey career started modestly enough in the small town of Lake City and took a lot of dedication and hard work to get to where she is at today.
“I started when I was seven and fell in love with it right away,” she said.
She had received a flier in elementary school about a learn to skate program. She joined that year, borrowing all the necessary equipment except for skates and a stick. It cost her family just $40 for her to play.
“I really enjoyed that my team was coed so that I could be around all of my friends,” she said. “No one who played on my team had ever played hockey before so all of us started in the same place.”
A couple years later she joined the 10U team in nearby Red Wing. Once she joined the Red Wing program, she new she wanted to purse the game of hockey long-term. But she knew it would require work away from the rink in order to hone her skills and early on she took to dryland training like a dog does a bone. It has since paid off tremendously.
“Most of my training time has happened in a shed right in my front yard,” she said. “No one can park their cars inside because I have taken over all three stalls.”
By the time she was in seventh grade, just six years after pulling on her first pair of skates, Taylor was skating with the high school team. As an eight grader she notched 18 points in 31 games. It was her sophomore year she took off, scoring 30 goals and 79 points.
“I think what makes Taylor special as a player is that she is a great athlete and very well rounded,” said Red Wing Head coach Scott Haley. “She is a player that has worked hard to continuously improve and hone her skill sets. She has some natural athletic skill, but has worked incredibly hard to get become a great hockey player.”
Taylor has worked with some of the state’s top coaches and instructors to improve her game. For the past three seasons she has worked with former Minnesota North Star Scott Bjugstad, who is considered the top shooting instructor in the hockey landscape. She has also worked with skating experts Andy and Diane Ness of Pro Edge Skating and since seventh grade has worked with personal trainer Curt Meier.
“Curt has pushed me to be the best I can be every single day,” said Taylor. “He is someone that has helped me excel both on and off the ice each and every time I train with him.”
She also credits Scott Bowlby, her coach for the Minnesota Machine, a AAA team she played for in the summer beginning in her fifth grade season.
“Scott and the coaching staff was a great fit for me. He always came to practice ready to teach my teammates and I new things,” she said. “I admire his drive and determination to share his love and knowledge of the game with me. He pushed me and challenged me and I thrived under his coaching.”
The stickhandling and shooting in the shed, the edge work with the Nesses, the commitment to training every day and soaking in the knowledge from the likes of Bjugstad has certainly paid dividends for Taylor. Last January she was invited to participate in the U18 World Championships and helped the team win Gold.
She described her Team USA experience as “incredible.”
“I know that I have made huge gains not only as a hockey player, but as a person,” she said. “I hope to continue to be apart of this program in the future.”
Her prowess on the ice also earned her a first-team 2016-17 All-American selection by USA Today. USA Today also ranks her as the 17th best athlete in the class of 2018. This ranking includes ALL sports and ALL senior athletes nationwide.
Her junior season saw her tally 47 goals and 84 points. Her on-ice abilities led her to sign on to play college hockey at the University of Minnesota, where she is excited to become a Golden Gopher.
“My goals for college hockey are to improve everyday as well as to watch and learn from all of the other players,” she said. “I would like to soak in everything that I can while meeting new people.”
But first she has some unfinished business this season. She wants to lead her fellow wingers back to the state tournament.
Coach Haley said not only is Taylor a great player, but she is a great leader.
“The players on our team love and respect Taylor,” Coach Haley said. “This is not always the case when you have a player that is that good. Sometimes jealousy creeps in, but this has never been the case between her and her peers. She brings a level of intensity and high expectations to the team that helps with our culture tremendously.”
Taylor takes her leadership role seriously. She describes herself as a player who has an intense love for the game.
“I love to see my teammates succeed,” she said. “I would hope that my teammates would say that I am a great person who is nice to everyone no matter who they are. I also would hope that my teammates think that I always work hard and try to include everyone and make sure that they are having fun.”
She credits Coach Haley with helping develop those leadership skills.
“When he picked me up in seventh grade I was just a young kid trying to play the game I love,” she said. “Over the years I have learned what it means to be a leader and a great teammate. He has instilled in me the patience needed to become a leader.”
Much of her leadership will come on the ice. With 128 career assists to go with her 142 career goals, Taylor proves she is an unselfish player.
“I just try to give everything I have to be the best I can be every time I step on the ice. Everyday is a chance to prove to everyone how much I love the game and everything to do with it,” she said.
She’s also not afraid to be physical. At 5’10" she has the size to use her body to her advantage.
“I am a very physical player who loves to use speed and deception to make plays for my teammates and myself,” she said.
She also understands there is always room for improvement. Playing for Team USA and being considered one of the top high school athletes in the country doesn’t mean she will stop working as hard as she has that has gotten her to where she is now. While she was born a good athlete, it has been her tailored work ethic that has made her into the player she is today.
“I want to keep working on my weaknesses so that I can keep improving everyday,” she said. “My goal is to become stronger as well as quicker in short distances.”
She knows reaching her personal goals will help her team reach their goal – which is to return to the state tournament this February. And any individual accolades are in the back of her mind as she and her team kick off their season this week.
“Helping my team make it to the state tournament is on the forefront of my mind right now,” she said. “My team is made up of a great group of girls that I am proud to call my family. They have helped me through so many things. I will be forever grateful to them for everything they have done for me.”
The Wingers opened their season Thursday at Mahtomedi. On Saturday, Nov. 11 they will take on Class A runner-up St. Paul United. It will be a good test for the Wingers and their fearless leader.
“We are ready to do whatever it takes to get to the state tournament,” Taylor said. “We have never been as close as a we are right now and we are ready to work as hard as possible to make our dream of making it to the state tournament a reality.”