If Minnesota regards itself as the State of Hockey, the Twin Cities' Professional Women's Hockey League franchise will feature plenty of homegrown players, including Taylor Heise.
The 2022 women's college hockey player of the year, who played for the Golden Gophers and grew up 75 miles from Minneapolis, is staying home after the yet-to-be-named Minnesota franchise used the No. 1 pick to select Heise in the newly launched league's inaugural draft on Monday.
"It's an unreal feeling," the 23-year-old Heise said.
"It's my home. Everyone I love is there. And it's the State of Hockey," she added. "I'm just honored that I'm going to be able to play and to show little girls that anything is possible if you keep working hard."
Heise heard her named called by tennis legend Billie Jean King, a member of the league's board of directors in opening the PWHL's 15-round draft held in Toronto.
Heise joins a franchise whose general manager, former U.S. national team player Natalie Darwitz, is from Minnesota, and who had already signed fellow Minnesotans Kelly Pannek and Lee Stecklein in the pre-draft free agency period.
Darwitz then dipped into the state's deep depth of talent by using seven of 15 picks on Minnesotans. She used her final pick, 85th overall, to draft Sydney Brodt, who played for the now-defunct Premier Hockey Federation Minnesota Whitecaps and is related to Whitecaps founder Jack Brodt.
Toronto selected veteran Canadian defender Jocelyne Larocque second, and Boston took Swiss center Alina Muller third. Muller was the only non-North American player picked in the first three rounds. Muller gets to stay in Boston after spending her college career at Northeastern.
New York used the fourth pick to select Canadian national team defender Ella Shelton. Ottawa reached across the border to draft U.S. national team defender Savannah Harmon at No. 5. And Montreal rounded out the first round by choosing Team Canada defender Erin Ambrose.
New York general manager Pascal Daoust consulted with his three signed players -- Abby Roque, Alex Carpenter and Micah Zandee-Hart -- on who to target in the draft. Their feedback led to him to selecting Shelton and fellow Canadian defender Jaime Bourbonnais.
"(I was) asking them, 'Who would you like to play with?' And most importantly, 'Who you don't want to play against,'" Daoust said. "I was trying to build something."
Harmon is from Illinois, but eager to head to Ottawa, where she represented the U.S. in a Rivalry Series game against Canada.
"I've been fortunate enough to play a game in a U.S. jersey against Team Canada but the atmosphere was incredible, the rink was incredible, the fans were incredible," Harmon said.
Overall, 47 Canadians and 28 Americans were chosen, plus two players who hold dual citizenship, which reflects the talent pool of the sport's two global powers. Five members of the fast-rising Czech Republic national team were also selected.
Sweden, Finland, France and Germany also had players drafted to a league bringing together the world's top female players and set to begin play in January.
The PWHL is financially backed by Los Angeles Dodgers owner Mark Walter, who in late June bought out the rival seven-team PHF to clear the way for one North American women's league. Walter was brought in by the Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association as part of its membership's vision to establish a league with a sustainable economic model and paid fair wages.
The PWHPA, made up of a majority of U.S. and Canadian national team members, had 25 players drafted, with another 18 already signed in free agency. The PHF had 32 former players selected, led by Czech Republic defender Dominika Laskova going 19th overall to Montreal.
In Boston, GM Danielle Marmer was anticipating Heise to be the No. 1 pick, and was pleased Muller was available at No. 3. Boston followed up by selecting Ohio State's Sophie Jacques, this season's Patty Kazmaier Award winner as college hockey's top female player.
The two join a roster that already features established U.S. national team players Hilary Knight, Megan Keller and Aerin Frankel, who were Boston's three pre-draft free agent signings.
"We wanted someone who is young, who's dynamic, who could play in the middle. And the career that she's had so far is pretty incredible," Marmer said of Muller. "We wanted to target goal scorers early in this draft, especially natural goal scorers. And I think we did a really good job of that."
Heise is coming off her fifth and final year at the University of Minnesota, where she was a first-team all-American after leading the NCAA in goals with 30. She was second in points with 67, and tied for third in assists with 37, in 39 games for the Gophers.
At the international level, the 5-foot-9, 160-pound Heise was named best forward and tournament MVP at the 2022 world championships, leading all players in goals with seven and points with 18.
AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno and The Canadian Press contributed to this report.
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