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What you need to know: Canisius at Niagara hockey

You know the cliche about throwing out records when two rivals meet. But let's examine the historical record anyway, because if you believe the current standings are an indication of how the series between Canisius and Niagara will play out this week, you indeed are sorely mistaken.

Case No. 1: Feb. 22, 2000. Nationally ranked Niagara should have walked all over Canisius at the then-Pepsi Center. The Purps had 59 shots on goal while the Griffs managed just 17. But Sean Waver made 58 saves and Canisius pulled off the 2-1 upset nearly crushing Niagara's hopes at an NCAA tournament bid.

Case No. 2: Nov. 11, 2008. Not only did Niagara score three shorthanded goals, they scored all three on the same Canisius power play in the second period for a 5-2 win Dwyer Arena.

Case No. 3: Nov. 2, 2010: Canisius accomplished the improbable by scoring twice in the final 44 seconds of regulation with the extra attacker to send the game at Buffalo State Ice Arena into overtime. But it was Niagara which pulled out the 6-5 win when Paul Zanette scored the OT game winner -- shorthanded.

[For a full look at our top moments in Canisius-Niagara rivalry, visit our photo gallery.]

You get the picture. Anything, and I mean anything, can happen in these games.

What's up for Canisius: Defense. During their five-game unbeaten streak the Griffs have allowed just six goals (1.20 per game). It starts with goaltending, particularly senior Keegan Asmundson. But Smith emphasizes team defense in all three zones and a complete team game.

"We don’t just expect the defensemen to play defense in the defensive zone and we don’t just expect the forwards to score goals," Smith said. "We need all five guys playing together, taking up space, ending plays, getting available for each other. So it’s both sides of the puck. It’s transition together. It's using our teammates, our linemates, to make each other better. When you do those things you create offense and stifle defense."

What's up for Niagara: It's gotta get better, right? The Purps are on an 0-8-2 skid, but look at their last four conference games and there are a pair of one-goal games and two ties. The team is still one of the fastest in the league and are dangerous if they can get pucks behind the opponent's defense. The X-factor is keeping their wits about them.

"It’s tough but we’re not the first team to go through it. We’re not going to be the last," said senior forward Sam Alfieri. "You just have to be strong mentally. You’ve got to take joy and pride in the little things you do on a day to day basis and just keep focusing on the process of getting better. When you focus on the process you forget about the disappointment of losing a few games. Eventually you’ll break out of it, you’ll start playing better and you’ll see the results."

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