Kaycee Herring knew at age six she wanted to be out on the ice.
While watching her older brother Carter play youth hockey, young Kacee grew antsy, aware she wouldn't always be content to simply enjoy the sport as a spectator.
"I remember watching one of (my brother's) games and I said 'I want to do that,' she said. "That was when the switch flipped and I knew I wanted to play hockey."
Now a senior forward for West Fargo United, Herring enters the final week of her playing days, as she and her teammates open state tournament play against Grand Forks Thursday.
With her playing opportunities shrinking rapidly, Herring has given herself several signature moments in the closing weeks of the season.
The final home game of her career proved to be her best. In a 7-1 win over Moorhead on Jan. 18, Herring had a hand in six United goals, scoring four while assisting on two others.
She had an even bigger highlight-reel moment three weeks later at Minot. In a game that appeared destined for overtime, Herring managed to get an open look and delivered a game-winning dagger with just one second to play, lifting West Fargo to a 2-1 win.
"That felt really good," she said of the Minot goal. "We've never had good luck going to Minot, so that's definitely one of the highlights of my hockey career. It felt amazing."
The late-season surge in production helped Herring set career-best marks in both goals (16) and assists (15). Her 31 points are 11th in the state entering the postseason.
She's proven to be a key cog in a productive first line, where fellow forwards Madison Hjelden (25 goals, 13 assists) and Madison Schoenberg (11, 14) have also reached double-digits goals and assists. The trio will be tasked with continuing its prolific scoring output in a difficult state tournament, where United will enter as the No. 4 seed following a 13-10 regular season.
While they found success against the rest of state, United struggled mightily against teams seeded above them. In six games against Fargo North-South, Bismarck and Fargo Davies, West Fargo went winless while being outscored 25-6.
One thing boosting Herring's confidence going into the tournament is the strong finish West Fargo had to the season. Following consecutive losses to Bismarck and Davies, United closed the year with three-consecutive wins, including a 3-0 shutout of the Grand Forks team they will see in the opening round.
"After (losing) to the big teams, it's hard to maintain the belief that we can do it," she said. "But I think that after (the last three) game, it's helped build up our confidence. It's made us believe we can definitely push it until the end."
Herring certainly won't need to be coerced into pushing it until the end. While excited about her future prospects-she plans to parlay an Animal Sciences degree from North Dakota State into a career as a veterinarian-she has mixed emotions about the end of her athletic career and hopes to make the most of her final opportunity to play a sport she's loved since a young age.
"If I don't go out and play my hardest every shift, I know I'll regret it," she said. "So that's my mentality and hopefully I'll be satisfied with how I played."
United and Grand Forks will play 30 minutes after the close of Thursday's opener between North-South and Devils Lake, which begins at 11 a.m. at Farmer's Union Arena in Fargo.