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Joe Tallari politely makes a request to purge one of the photos that shows up from time to time on Niagara's athletic Web site.

He's wearing No. 9 in the picture -- the number he wore his freshman year for the Purple Eagles.

Not that changing his hockey jersey to No. 7 is the reason why the 5-foot-11, 180-pound junior from Thunder Bay, Ont., is leading the nation in goal scoring. But why tempt the fates?

Back in that freshman year, Tallari arrived on campus with an abdominal strain. He played in 37 games that season but scored just three goals with five assists.

"He came to us with that mysterious hockey stomach pull," coach Dave Burkholder said. "He almost had surgery and basically he lost a year of juniors and almost lost his whole freshman year to it. . . . But to myself and other coaches that watched him as a junior player, this is not a surprise. He's this good."

Tallari recovered from his injury by putting time in the weight room, particularly working on his lower body. A stronger player, his scoring touch resurfaced his sophomore year and has flourished early this season.

Consider in his first two seasons combined at Niagara, he had 18 goals and 18 assists in 72 games.

Through 11 games this season, he already has 13 goals, the most in Division I, while ranking ninth in points with 20.

And his first six goals of the year came in two games -- against Air Force and UMass-Lowell -- in the first two hat tricks of his collegiate career.

So what's the difference this season?


He shoots the puck.

While his 105 shots in 35 games last season was pretty darn good, he's already recorded 50 shots this time around -- and the season is barely a third of the way through.

"I think that's one of the things I've keyed on the most is shooting more," Tallari said. "You know if you don't shoot, you don't score. . . . I know what my job is here and that's to score goals. If you don't shoot the puck, you don't score. That's common sense."

"There's no question in hockey, you can't control how many goals you're going to get with posts and goaltenders, but most nights you can control how many attempts you have," Burkholder said. "He has a mindset now where he has set goals every game of how many shots he wants and if he's behind, he's just relentless in his pursuit to attain his goal. He'll do whatever it takes to get shots on goal. It's been a lot of fun to watch."

The Purple Eagles, 4-8 with an upset win at Michigan State, would probably have a little more fun if Tallari's karma would transfer to some of his teammate's sticks.

He has 13 of Niagara's 38 goals. Linemate Barret Ehgoetz and Bernie Sigrist have five goals apiece, but the production drops off from there.

Still, Tallari isn't so worried about carrying the offensive load.

"I've been in the situation before where you're having a little bit of trouble and the puck won't go in for you," Tallari said. "Guys are getting five or six shots a game and they'll get a goal. Things just aren't bouncing their way but I'll tell you, we've got a lot of goal scorers in our locker room. As soon as everyone starts scoring, it's going to be even more impressive than it is now."

Around campus

Canisius continues to be big dog on the Western New York block when it comes softball recruiting. The Griffs signed last year's WNY Player of the Year and first-team all-state selection Jamie Gerace, who led Kenmore West to the Class A state championship last year. She batted .467 and set school season records for runs (39), doubles (10), triples (6) and hits (50).

Also signing with Canisius is Lancaster's Lindsay Garbacz, a first-team All-WNY selection and ECIC Pitcher of the Year. Garbacz was third-team all-state selection with a 19-3 record, 0.24 ERA. She had 229 strikeouts in 128 innings and nine league shutouts.

Niagara County Community College women's soccer coach Pedro Rita was nominated for the 2002 National Soccer Coaches Association of America Coach of the Year honors. Rita, who is 24-19-2 in three years at NCCC, won the award last season.

RIT's Sarah Ballard (Frontier) was named to the first team Verizon Academic All-America Women's Volleyball District I team. The industrial engineering major has a 4.0 grade point average. She has 97 kills and 415 digs.

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