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TEMPO CHANGE MAKES BENGALS TOUGH TO BEAT

Talk to Rudy Pompert about the rising success of Buffalo State's men's soccer program and the coach always comes back to one thing -- good soccer.

"We like to win, of course," Pompert said. "But more important to us is that we want to play good soccer. We'd rather play good soccer than win every game, 1-0."

Most players would like to do both -- play good soccer and win -- but the emphasis on the quality and philosophy of the game has resulted in an impressive season for the Bengals.

Entering today's 3 p.m. regular-season finale at home against Fredonia, Buffalo State is 11-3-2 overall, 5-3 in the State University of New York Athletic Conference. It has secured just its second playoff berth since 1984.

What's changed? In part, it's been an upgrade in recruiting since Pompert took over the program in 2000. Additionally, there has been a change in philosophy on which the focus is good soccer and the next game.

"We don't have any clever sayings on the wall of our locker room like you see in other sports," Pompert said. "The only thing we talk about is winning the next game. At the beginning of the season, we didn't set goals. Our only goal was to win the next game, and that's what it's always been."

The Bengals started the season 9-0-2. Though they didn't predict they'd be unbeaten in their first 11 games, they were confident that they'd vastly improve on last season's 6-10-2 record.

"We don't get down," senior defender Matt Romano (Eden) said. "Last year, if we fell behind, 2-0, to Brockport, who supposedly is the second-best team in the conference, we'd have lost, 5-0. This year, we knew we were good enough to come back. We get upset and pick it up now."

Saturday's Brockport game is one the Bengals wish they could have back. Down, 2-0, at halftime, they took a 3-2 lead in the second half but started pressing too much for that fourth goal and ended up losing, 4-3.

Still, the gamble is something Buffalo State is willing to tolerate. While most teams in SUNYAC play a defensive style with only two forwards, Buffalo State plays with three forwards. Forget boring soccer. The Bengals are looking to attack and create scoring opportunities. While that has cost them 16 goals against, it's resulted in 35 goals for.

"We wanted to find a way to distinguish ourselves," Pompert said. "We think we do that by playing good soccer."

Welcome home

The Canisius men's hockey team opens its home schedule in the Buffalo State Ice Arena at 7 p.m. Friday, against first-year program Robert Morris. The Griffs started 0-1-1 at the Nye Frontier Classic, tying host Alaska-Anchorage, 3-3, and losing, 2-1, to Massachusetts. The four goals came from four players. The Griffs were outshot, 55-38.

The Griffs earned some unsolicited praise from UMass coach Don Cahoon.

"Canisius was the surprise of the tournament for how tenacious they were and how hard they played," Cahoon said. "They have some good players. They don't have any great players, but they played hard and that's good for everybody."

Robert Morris lost to the U.S. Under-18 Team, 5-3, in an exhibition game Saturday. Local connections on the Colonials include freshman goaltender and Buffalo native Jamie Flury, sophomore forward and Amherst native Doug Conley, and assistant coach Nate Handrahan, a former player and assistant at Niagara.

On the women's side, Niagara opens a two-game series in Dwyer Arena against Northeastern (7 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday). The Purple Eagles (0-2) opened with two losses at seventh-ranked New Hampshire. Niagara was outshot, 41-18, in losing the first game, 4-1. The second game was another story. New Hampshire pulled out the win, 4-3, in overtime, scoring the winning goal on a five-on-three power play. The Wildcats held a 29-23 shots on goal advantage but had 10 power plays, on which they scored three goals.

Northeastern has yet to play.

Around campus

Buffalo State's Amanda Uschold had nine points this weekend as the Bengals opened the hockey season with two road routs at Chatham. The junior forward set a school record with five assists in Sunday's 12-1 win.

University at Buffalo sophomore wrestler Mark McKnight is ranked seventh in the 125-pound weight class in Division I by the Amateur Wrestling News, the Wrestling Mall, Intermat and W.I.N. magazine. McKnight finished last season with a 34-8 record and a Mid-American Conference title at 125 pounds.

e-mail: amoritz@buffnews.com