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Minnesota Women’s Hockey: Six Gophers selected in PWHL Draft

Taylor Heise went #1 overall as expected

the inaugural Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) Draft at CBC’s headquarters Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The inaugural Professional Women’s Hockey :League (PWHL) draft took place on Monday in Toronto. The six teams in the league took part in a 15-round snake draft, selecting 90 players who will be key figures on each teams inaugural roster. With former Gopher star Natalie Darwitz as the general manager of the Minnesota team, you know that they would likely have a strong Gopher flair to their roster, and to no surprise they do. Six former Gophers were selected in the draft with three of them remaining in the State of Hockey.

It was long rumored once the Minnesota franchise got the #1 overall pick in the draft lottery that they would be looking for a young local star to select, and they happened upon the perfect choice. The Minnesota team selected former Gopher All-American and 2022 Patty Kazmaier Award Winner Taylor Heise with the #1 selection. The Lake City native lit up the ice for the Gophers over the past five seasons and now will get to make her professional debut at home with the local team.

With their 3rd round selection, Pick #13 in the draft Darwitz added a fellow recently graduated Gopher in forward Grace Zunwinkle. Zumwinkle was lethal the power-play for the Gophers the past few seasons with a rocket of a shot from the circle. She [projects into a power forward role for the Minnesota team and should fit well along with fellow Gopher alums Heise and Kelly Pannek and Lee Stecklein who were signed in the early free agency class.

The Minnesota team added one more ex-Gopher later in the draft as goalie Amanda Levielle was selected. Levielle played for the Gophers from 2012 through 2016 and has spent the past few seasons as the #1 goalie for the Minnesota Whitecaps in the PHF. She will split time in goal with Team USA goalie Nicple Hensley who the Minnesota team selected in round two.

A pair of ex-Gophers are headed to Beantown after the Boston franchise selected them. Forward Hannah Brandt was taken in the fifth round while defender Emily Brown was selected in the 8th round. Brandt is the Gophers all-time leading scorer with 286 points and second all time in goals with 115. Brown was a staple on the Gophers blue line for five seasons between 2017-2022.

Brown’s defensive partner for many of those seasons in the maroon and gold was selected by the Toronto franchise with their 15th and final pick. Olivia Knowles who played for the Whitecaps last season is heading back to her native Canada to play in Toronto. She will join a few familiar WCHA foes in Ohio State’s Emma Maltais and Wisconsin’s Kristen Campbell on that roster.

All the remainder of the non-drafted Gophers are now free agents and are eligible to sign with any team. Teams will take 28 players into training camps that begin in November and will cut down to a final 20 player roster for the season that begins in January. Several ex-Gophers who may sign with the Minnesota roster as they are still in the area include recent grads Abigail Boreen and Catie Skaja, and potentially a wild card in long time hockey vet Gigi Marvin.