La Velle E. Neal III
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Tuesday is the start of the fall semester at the University of Minnesota as thousands of students head for classes. That will include graduate student Taylor Heise, one of the dominant players in women's college hockey.

While school is just starting, her excellent year is continuing.

On Monday, she was on a plane headed home from Denmark, where Team USA won a silver medal at the IIHF Women's World Championships. Heise, a center from Lake City and one of nine current and former Gophers in the tournament, was a key player for the national team as it reached the gold medal game before falling 2-1 to archrival Canada.

Heise didn't just show up, she showed off, scoring 18 points over seven games on seven goals and 11 assists to win the Most Valuable Player award. It was the second-highest point total in the tournament's history, coming in Heise's first-ever appearance at the hockey worlds.

The only setback for her came right before the tournament began when she was one of a few players to test positive for COVID during the pre-tournament camp in Buffalo. She was forced to rent a car and drive 13 1/2 hours back to Minnesota. Alone.

"It was a rush of emotions," Heise said Monday morning from the team bus as it approached the airport in Copenhagen. "I think I experienced every emotion on the drive back. It was interesting."

She returned to Red Wing to recover before flying to New York, where she connected with other recovered players and flew to Denmark. They arrived on Aug. 24. A day later, she had five assists in a 10-0 rout over Japan in their tournament opener.

The United States and Canada are, by far, the top two teams in the world, so their meeting for the gold was expected. Team USA did beat Canada 5-2 during group play, with Heise contributing an assist in that win. But the Canadians clamped down on Team USA in the gold medal game. Captain Kendall Coyne Schofield had a great chance to tie the game in the third period but her shot just inside the right post was snuffed by goaltender Ann-Renee Desbiens.

Despite losing to Canada, which is always painful, Heise believes the program is in an excellent spot.

"I think we surprised even our coaching staff," Heise said. "I think our defense was special, and I think this team is going to be one to reckon with in the future."

Before the worlds, Heise was coming off a prolific season for the Gophers that ended with her winning the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award for being the best player in Division I. Her 29 goals and 37 assists in 39 games led the nation in scoring. The Gophers went 29-9-1 last season, and Heise is among eight Gophers who have opted to play a fifth season, accepting the extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic. She will be joined by Excelsior's Grace Zumwinkle, who redshirted last season to focus on playing for the Team USA during the Beijing Olympics.

There's unfinished business for these returning stars, as the team is bitter about being knocked out of the NCAA tournament by Minnesota-Duluth on March 12.

"It's going to be a redemption season," she said.

The Gophers' opener is Oct. 7 against Bemidji State, but Heise is going to take about a week off to recharge and receive a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection for her sore hip. Then she'll ease into preparation for a new season after a busy spring and summer. Catching COVID was likely the low point of the year, and she didn't let that slow her down.

"I had an interesting little change of scenery for a bit," Heise said. "I think my journey here has been one in a million that I would never give up for anything."