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Why Canisius College could be just six minutes from a win for the ages

The Canisius College women’s lacrosse team needs to outplay Syracuse for just six minutes Tuesday to earn the biggest regular-season win in its program history.

A six-minute game?

That’s what it boils down to when the fifth-ranked Orange returns to Buffalo to finish the last 6:05 of a game that was suspended due to a snowstorm a month ago. The game is tied, 10-10, and it resumes at 4:30 p.m. at the Demske Sports Complex.

Canisius has built a mid-major lacrosse powerhouse. The Golden Griffins went to four straight NCAA tournaments from 2011 to 2014. They’re the favorite to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament this weekend and earn another NCAA bid.

But the Griffs (11-5) never have beaten a ranked foe in their program history.

“Being tied with them is a big accomplishment, but we have to finish it,” said Canisius goalie Rebecca VanLaeken.

“We have nothing to lose,” said Canisius senior attacker Taylor Giglio. “Whether we win or lose, no one can take away how we’ve played. And I want the chance to show everyone it was not just the snowstorm that kept the game close, that we really can play with top-10 teams like that.”

The MAAC doesn’t need any convincing of the Griffs’ quality.

Canisius is 8-0 in conference and has outscored its MAAC foes, 120-44. The Griffs have won 16 straight MAAC regular-season conference games over the past two seasons. They rank 20th out of 110 teams in the nation in scoring, averaging 12.4 goals a game.

The domination is no surprise. The Griffs were the preseason pick to win the MAAC despite graduating seven seniors and the fact nine of their 12 starters this year are freshmen or sophomores.

Coach Scott Teeter, in his 14th season, has been recruiting at a high level for years.

“A question mark we had going into the year was probably our youth,” said Teeter. “Was our youth ready? I knew that they were talented. But our sophomores played a lot last year, so we’re treating them as veterans.”

Canisius’ best player is attacker Erica Evans, a sophomore from Peterborough, Ont., who has 59 goals and 73 points. She ranks third in the nation in goals per game at 3.69. Her cousin, Shawn Evans, was National Lacrosse League MVP two of the past three years.

“She plays the game faster than anyone in our conference and is up there with the elite NCAA players in terms of speed,” Teeter said.

Teeter, 38, has an edge in recruiting Canadians. He coached the Canadian Under-19 team to a gold medal at the world championships in 2015. He brought three players from that squad, including Evans, to Canisius.

Teeter has been named Canadian coach for the 2017 senior women’s world championships, to be held in England.

“Being the Canadian national team coach, there aren’t too many Canadians that I don’t know about,” Teeter said.

Teeter also has mined the powerful Rochester high school region for talent. Thirteen Griffs, including eight starters, are from Rochester’s Section V.

Oswego’s Giglio is second on the team in scoring with 55 points, followed by Canadian Tessa Chad (34) and Irondequoit’s Jourdan Roemer (34), Rochester’s Lauren Smolensky (32) and Lancaster’s Allie Stewart (23). Stewart was the Borrelli Award winner as WNY’s top player in 2014.

Knowing he had a strong team, Teeter scheduled tough non-conference teams. Canisius lost its opener at Michigan, 13-11, and lost competitive games against No. 7 Louisville and No. 14 Ohio State.

“Right from fall we saw we had good underclassmen,” Giglio said. “Against Michigan it was a close game right to the end. That just showed us right from Day One we can hang with these big teams and we have a lot of potential.”

Against Syracuse, Canisius scored three goals in a span of 1:25 to tie the game, 10-10. But the snowfall was persistent, and the field was covered in the second half. The officials decided to suspend the game.

“For me personally that was one of the best days of my lacrosse career,” Giglio said. “Syracuse is an amazing team. I live in Oswego, which is about 30 minutes from there. I’ve grown up with a lot of those girls. So to be an underdog and have everyone say Canisius is going to get stomped on, it just felt so good to prove everyone wrong and show everyone what we’re really capable of.”

Regardless of the outcome, Canisius needs to win the MAAC Tournament to get to the NCAAs. Last year’s loss to Fairield in the MAAC title game still stings.

“It’s in the back of everyone’s mind,” Giglio said. “I wore my MAAC championship ring from my sophomore year every single day in the offseason, and I was thinking I want another one of those.”