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Depth the key ingredient as Canisius finds its offensive game

On the line chart, they comprise the fourth line. On the ice, they may have been the best trio Tuesday night in HarborCenter.

It's evidence of the depth that has been the key ingredient for the Canisius Golden Griffins, who have turned up their offense in the second half of the season.

With a 4-1 win over rival Niagara, the Griffs moved into a tie for first place in Atlantic Hockey and are undefeated in their last five games.

Four different players scored for Canisius Tuesday, including two from that fourth line. Casey Jerry tapped in a shot from Matt McLeod, who then scored his first collegiate goal, set up by linemate David Bennett.

"Tonight Casey Jerry’s line I thought arguably was one of the best lines for us tonight," Canisius coach Dave Smith said. "There was good depth and I think it does make a big difference.

"Matt McLeod is lightning fast. His legs are electric. It's hard to score at any time but to get your first one, you’ll remember that forever. I'm really happy for him."

Canisius took a 1-0 lead just 2:30 into the game when McLeod found himself on a breakaway. He put a hard shot on Niagara goaltender Jackson Teichroeb who made the save, but Jerry was there to tap it in.

Ryan Schmelzer scored his eighth of the season on the power play, giving the Griffs a 2-0 first-period lead.

McLeod then scored late in the second period, the first career tally for the sophomore, which gave Canisius a comfortable 3-0 lead.

"We were out there for a long shift," McLeod said. "I remember I was about to change. The puck came to," Bennett "down low. I just got open in the slot and one-timed it home and I was thankful it went in."

Dylan McLaughlin scored on the power play in the third for a 4-0 Canisius lead. It was the fifth straight game with a point for McLaughlin, who has found a scoring touch in the second semester.

Canisius struggled offensively the first half the season, averaging just 1.88 goals in the first 17 games. Since returning from semester break, they're averaging 2.75.

The difference has been finding line combinations with chemistry and moving a few pieces.

"I made a switch to left wing," said McLaughlin, who found a good fit with Schmelzer and David Parrottino. "I was originally a center last year and the start of this year and I think wing has helped me out a little bit.

"We have four lines who can score and produce. We're confident in all of our players. We expect a lot out of everyone."

The Griffs are now tied with Air Force for the top spot in Atlantic Hockey with 24 points (10-4-4) while improving to 11-10-5 overall. But the standings are rarely what concerns Smith and his staff.

"This group has worked really hard. There’s a lot of pride in our game," Smith said. "Where we are in the standings is nice to look at but our group has to handle confidence properly and we’ve been up and down when we’ve been confident. I think since Christmas we’ve handled confidence very well."

On the flip side, Niagara is looking for confidence. With eight players out of the lineup with injuries, the Purple Eagles have struggled. Nicolas Carrier put Niagara on the board with a power play goal in the third.

"We've pretty much been rolling with nine forwards since Christmas," Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. "I'm pretty proud of the effort."

Niagara fell to 3-14-2 in Atlantic Hockey and 3-19-3 overall.

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