Heise seeing the light in PWHL playoffs for Minnesota: the goal light

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Minnesota’s Taylor Heise entered this inaugural Professional Women’s Hockey League season as a self-described “pass-first kind of gal.”

With Minnesota one win away from capturing the PWHL championship and Game 4 of the best-of-five Walter Cup Final to be played at Xcel Energy Center on Sunday night, Heise clearly has seen the light when it comes to shooting the puck. Specifically, the red light.

The former Gophers’ star leads the PWHL playoffs with five goals and seven assists. She scored Minnesota’s first goal in Friday night’s 4-1 win over Boston to go with a pair of two-goal games in the postseason.

All that after scoring four goals in 19 games during the regular season.

Heise points to some pointed words from her father for the change of approach — and change of fortune.

“He said, ‘When you’re on a roll, the only person that can stop it is you,’” Heise said. “He said that stopping that (roll) is me making a pass first. I’m always going to look to pass if it is the right play, but I’ve gotten better with the confidence that (her coaches and teammates) want me to shoot, they want me to score.

“They’re never going to look at me and ask, ‘Why did you not pass that puck?’ Because they know that is not ever me.”

During Friday’s game, Heise carried the puck into the Boston zone on a two-on-one with Kendall Coyne Schofield and elected to shoot. Boston goaltender Aerin Frankel made the save but taking the shot was the right decision. Heise acknowledged on Saturday that in the same situation earlier in the season, she would have passed the puck

Minnesota coach Ken Klee said he has not spoken to Heise about shooting the puck more, but he’s glad she has taken it upon herself to do so.

“She’s got a great shot,” Klee said. “I sat down with (goaltender) Maddie Rooney over the break and asked her about our players — who shoots well. Taylor and Zum (Grace Zumwinkle) came to the top of the list pretty quick.

“(Taylor) has a heavy shot, she can pick where she wants to shoot. She’s got a great skill set; she can take a slapper, she can snap it top shelf either side. She is a team player, so she does look (to pass) but with the three of them (Heise, Coyne Schofield and Michela Cava), they’re just reading off each other. They are having a lot of fun making plays together.”

Heise’s pedestrian goal-scoring numbers during the regular season were due in part to a shoulder injury that had her out of the lineup for five games. She also found out early on that the pro game is not that similar to the college game.

“Here, when I get the puck I’m not going to have five seconds to make a play,” Heise said. “It’s going to be one or two. I want to get five or six shots off in a game, but if I don’t, I can’t expect myself to put the puck in the back of the net.

“So, changing the way that that works, and also having the perspective of, ‘I need to go out there and throw some hits, too.’ I think getting yourself into that makes the game easier for me.”

Coyne Schofield said no one in the Minnesota locker room has been surprised by the success Heise has had in the postseason.

“Some people have made comments about her being a little quieter during the regular season,” she said. “Obviously, she dealt with an injury that kept her out for a little bit, but you’re seeing why she was drafted first overall.

“She’s doing what she does — at the most important time. She’s a clutch player, wants the puck on her stick when the game’s on the line.”

While Heise has been on a memorable run, she has not been alone in leading Minnesota to the brink of a title. As she put it, “I’m confident in what I’m doing, but I’m also very confident in my teammates.”

It can all culminate with a win on Sunday. Should Boston tie the series at 2-2, Game 5 is set for Wednesday in Boston.

“The last one to win is the hardest one to win — by far,” Coyne Schofield said. “We can’t look to the outcome, we have to look at the process that is going to take for us to get to that outcome.

“Everyone is banged up. No one is feeling their best, but you find a way to be your best.”

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