In a flash, No. 1 U women's hockey sweeps series with Minnesota Duluth

Barely 30 seconds into Saturday's game against in-state rival Minnesota Duluth, and the Gophers already had two goals from three shots.

When Catie Skaja scored at 25 seconds and Abbey Murphy followed 10 seconds later, Skaja had a feeling it was more than just a good opening.

"I asked one of our assistant coaches, I was like, 'Is that a record?' " Skaja said of what were, indeed, the two fastest goals in Gophers women's hockey history. "I just thought that start set the tone for the game, and it set them back on their heels.

"… Those two goals made us confident and made us play free and fast the rest of the game."

Off that stellar start, the Gophers took down the Bulldogs 5-3 on Saturday at Ridder Arena, quite the contrast from Friday's tight contest that ended in a 3-2 overtime win for the Gophers. Sweeping Minnesota Duluth in the team's first meeting of the 2022-23 season was some satisfying revenge, given the teams' recent history.

While the Gophers ousted the Bulldogs from the WCHA Final Faceoff last season, the Bulldogs repaid that favor by barring the Gophers from the Frozen Four and ultimately making it all the way to the national championship game. And the year before that, the Bulldogs received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament while the Gophers missed out for the first time since 2007.

Skaja, a fifth-year senior, said she tries not to reflect on those memories, though she mostly fails at it, adding "it's a team that we want to beat, and when we beat, it feels great."

This season has been all about the Gophers, though. The undefeated No. 1 team improved to 9-0-1 overall and in the conference while the No. 5 Bulldogs fell to 7-5-0, 3-5-0 conference.

Before Skaja and Murphy's record-breaking tandem, the previous mark came just two years ago when Patti Marshall and Grace Zumwinkle scored at 30 seconds and 59 seconds, respectively, against St. Cloud State on February 29, 2020.

Taylor Heise, who had two assists Saturday, had a helper in the 2020 duo and the 2022 version.She said her team's speed from the jump is one of its best development throughout her five years.

"Back in the beginning when I started about 2018, I think we lacked a little bit of that," Heise said. "I think coming in, especially after [Friday] night, we knew the momentum was with us. And if we let them have it right away, we were going to lose it. So we're a really fast-starting team. I think we warm up really well. We make sure we're all ready to go."

The Bulldogs, though, did quickly cut the Gophers' lead in half on a power play. After Ella Huber went to the box for interference, Maggie Flaherty beat the Gophers' penalty kill. But the Gophers yet again showed how their scoring can pile on rapidly when Skaja scored her second goal of the game at 7:24 of the second period, converting on the power play. Less than a minute later, Josefin Bouveng made it 4-1 after a Bulldogs' turnover.

Abigail Boreen contributed yet another goal a little more than halfway through the second period, ricocheting the puck off the far post and into the goal off of Bulldogs' goaltender Emma Soderberg's skate.

That ended Soderberg's afternoon, with the Bulldogs opting to put freshman Hailey MacLeod between the pipes in just her second collegiate game.

"Obviously, anytime a goalie gets pulled, it signifies something great," Gophers coach Brad Frost said, also adding how tweaking the lines for the first time all season paid dividends. "… She's a top goalie in the country, and so to get five by her was a big deal."

The Bulldogs nabbed their second goal at 6:26 in the third period from Mannon McMahon. And they managed one more consolation goal with about 30 seconds left in the game, benefiting from some time at 6-on-4, thanks to Peyton Hemp's late penalty and pulling MacLeod. Clara Van Wieren had that score, but it was the last one Gophers' goaltender Skylar Vetter allowed. Vetter ended with 23 saves as the Gophers outshot the Bulldogs 32-26.

Heise mentioned how she had to take melatonin to help sleep after the excitement of an overtime game Friday, knowing puck drop on the series finale was just several hours away. And her Sunday will have to be just a chill spent watching Grey's Anatomy, as the Gophers have another swift turnaround. They play St. Cloud State on Monday at the Andover Community Center in the women's U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game.

"The fact that it's sold out already is awesome," Heise said. "… I'm excited to see what we can bring, especially after a good weekend like this. I think we can just come out and do some damage."