Teammates again, Taylor Heise and Nicole Schammel are leading the Gophers women's hockey team to another successful season.
Both products of the Red Wing girls' hockey program, the bond the two share has helped Heise through her introductory phase of college and ease into the hockey season.
Schammel, a redshirt senior, said she remembers Heise, a true freshman, just a bit smaller the last time the two donned the same jerseys.
"It's kind of funny when she was in seventh and eighth grade and I was taller than her. And now she's like a foot taller than me," Schammel said with a chuckle. "That's different, but it's been really fun to see her mature and grow as a player."
Heise said Schammel was the one she looked up to, but not because younger Winger was shorter.
"She just worked so hard," Heise said, reminiscing. "Her style of play is very different from mine, but I can always take aspects of it. I watched her as a seventh- and eighth-grader and took things that she did."
The transition from high school to college has been easier for Heise thanks to her friendship with her former Red Wing teammate. During the break, the two skated together numerous times.
Gophers women's hockey head coach Brad Frost said he quickly noticed the connection between the two.
"There is a friendship there with Taylor and Nicole," Frost said, "and it's been pretty cool for Taylor to have someone to show her the ropes coming from a smaller town to the big city."
Heise has developed the same chemistry with the rest of her teammates, too, as she skated often with the other incoming freshman prior to the season. Her production on the ice has eased her transition as well.
"Coming in, you never really know what's going to happen. I think being able to play with players like Nicole and (UM-Duluth senior) Reagan Haley when I was (in Red Wing) really helped me. When you come in, you just have to find a role and I found mine. I've had a really good time. The players on our team are so welcoming. They make sure you feel ready to go."
Heise has found her role on the team as a player who can fill many spots. She kills penalties and has seen time on the power play.
Heise currently is fourth on the Gophers in points with 16 (seven goals, nine assists) and is tied for the team lead in game-winning goals with three, all the while centering the fourth line. Frost said he's pleased with her play in all facets of the game.
"She is someone who is incredibly gifted," Frost said. "She's one of our fastest skaters. Has a great shot. Sees the game well, and has really been playing well in a multitude of situations. ... Being on the fourth line is not necessarily a demotion, but she's making her minutes count when she's out there."
Heise believes playing internationally on the USA U18 team in the past has helped her quickly become a productive player for the Gophers.
"Even though leaving the high school team was kind of hard, during that two week span I had a blast," Heise said. "When you're able to play against the best players in the entire world in your age group, it was absolutely insane. Three years in row, I think it not only helped my high school play, but helped for college. I was able to relate some things right away."
It doesn't come as shock to former Red Wing girls' hockey assistant coach Tony Casci to see Heise have the success she's having after moving on to college.
"I think it's pretty plain to see that she's years ahead of her time when it comes to hockey and her hockey IQ," Casci said. "When she grew up, it just snowballed and is the start of a great career for her. Nicole and Taylor had plenty of scoring chances together in the short time they had together on the girls' team."
While Heise has thrived thus far, so, too, has Schammel.
Schammel leads the Gophers in points with 25 (6 goals, 19 assists), and Frost said since Schammel transferred to the University of Minnesota from Minnesota State, Mankato, she's been one of the most consistent players on the team. In her two previous seasons combined, Schammel tallied 23 goals and 21 assists in 77 games.
"She's a great leader, not just on the ice but off the ice as well," Frost said. "As someone who is finishing up her master's degree, there's things she's been able to do while she's here that others can hope to do, and she's got the experience to tell others how it's going to go."
The success the two reunited Wingers have had wouldn't be possible without the work put in before reaching the college level. Casci said he believes it's what has set Hesie and Schammel up for each of their respective careers, being productive point-getters on the Gophers.
"There's a lot of people that see what they do on the ice and they 'ah' at it. The girls' coaches are some of the few that saw all the things that went on behind the scenes. These are girls that were literally first ones on, last ones off and shooting pucks after practice; shooting pucks at their garage at home that nobody saw but them. Only their parents know how much work they put in to the game. It shows that their hard work is paying off."
Schammel Drafted by Buffalo
In December, a few days before Christmas, the National Women's Hockey League released its five-round draft selections. The Gophers had two selected in the draft with Schammel being one of them, taken in the fifth round by the Buffalo Beauts.
Schammel said she was at home when she found out she was drafted and was with her family to share the excitement.
Growing up without the NWHL for most of her hockey career, there wasn't much thought into a hockey career after college. With Buffalo giving her a chance to play, Schammel feels it means a little more with the league where it is and its growth.
"In high school and all the way through college, the (Minnesota) Whitecaps have always been around in their capacity of being a professional team," Schammel said. "So I always thought that was an option, but the league makes it a little more serious."
Casci said Schammel showed she was a special player early on in high school. Schammel was always able to find the impossible pass or the play to set up a goal because she was smart with the puck on the ice. When the pass wasn't there, she scored by making smart decisions with her shot.
"The amount of goals she's able to score just by reading the defense, reading the goalie," Casci said, "she's a very deceptive player. I've never seen anybody be able to streak up the ice and slow it down at the same time. She's been able to see the ice with the puck on her stick from a very young age."
Second Half Push
As the Gophers prepare for the second half of the season, Heise and Schammel said the team knows what needs to be done. Perhaps more importantly, the team knows it can execute the way it did in the first half of the season.
At 17-2-1, Schammel said there isn't much else to do other than to keep "striving to be as good as we can be."
Heise said the depth of the team, one that Frost said uses all four lines equally every night, is incredibly strong. The Gophers' confidence is also booming. At practice Wednesday, Heise said the team played games, and is playing light with lots of energy.
"We're confident in our shift lengths, confident in every player on every line and confident in our goalies," Heise said. "We have had a few injuries, but other than that, we've been doing really well. It just comes from the depth, the speed and the work ethic that everyone has."