The Gophers closed out the first half of the men’s hockey season with the program’s first sweep at Michigan State in 38 seasons. Coach Don Lucia recognized the accomplishment by tweeting, “Great to head into the break with two good teams wins,” before cautioning, “A long way to go, but we took a step in the right direction this weekend.”

After a 19-day layoff for winter break, the next step for Lucia’s team will be finishing off its nonconference schedule with success.

Though Gophers are ranked No. 11 in the latest USCHO poll with a 9-5-2 record, they’ll need victories outside of the Big Ten schedule to bolster their NCAA tournament résumé. They are also No. 11 in the PairWise rankings, which mimic the criteria used to fill out the national field. Mercyhurst is the first of four remaining nonconference opponents for the Gophers. They play the Lakers on Friday, the opening night of the 26th annual Mariucci Classic.

Five more things to know about the Gophers as they enter the second half of the season:

Mariucci favorites

The Gophers are the favorites to win their 14th Mariucci Classic championship as the only ranked program in the four-team field. Mercyhurst, Alabama Huntsville and Massachusetts all have losing records. However, the Gophers haven’t won their own tournament since 2012.

Sheehy leads the way

Sophomore forward Tyler Sheehy leads the Gophers with 11 goals and 23 points. He is riding a career-best eight-game point streak and matched a career-long four-game goal streak. Sheehy scored two goals and had an assist in the Michigan State sweep. He has earned Big Ten weekly honors three times.

Schierhorn inconsistent

Reigning Big Ten Goaltender of the Year Eric Schierhorn has a .882 save percentage, ranking eighth among nine Big Ten goalies with 300-plus minutes. Lucia said after Schierhorn’s 1-0 shutout against Minnesota State Mankato on Nov. 19, “We’ve got to have that consistency and he knows that.” Schierhorn does lead the Big Ten and is tied for second in the nation with three shutouts.

Seniors leading the way

Senior captain Justin Kloos earned the NCAA’s Third Star and the Big Ten’s First Star of the Week after the Gophers’ final series of the first half. The forward scored a goal and had four assists, nine shots on goal and a plus-3 rating in a pair of 4-2 victories against the Spartans. Kloos is second on the team in scoring with 18 points (seven goals). Senior forward Vinni Lettieri (seven goals) and senior defenseman Jake Bischoff (two goals) each have 15 points.

Looking ahead

The Gophers take on top-ranked Minnesota Duluth in the first round of the North Star College Cup on Jan. 27. The following weekend, Feb. 3-4, the Gophers host No. 3 Penn State.