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These last two non-conference games are pretty important for Canisius, but it’s not so much about the outcome of the games on the ice. It’s about what the Golden Griffins will learn to jump start the second half of their season.

The Griffs travel to Burlington, Vt., to participate in the Catamount Cup at Gutterson Fieldhouse, facing Hockey East teams UMass-Lowell (4 p.m., today) and tourney host Vermont (7 p.m., Sunday) to close out their non-conference schedule.

The Griffs (5-8-0) are playing for the first time since a disappointing 2-0 loss at Army on Dec. 7 and while the opponents are challenging, the opportunity exists to get back into gear quickly before returning to the grind of the Atlantic Hockey season.

“Our success is still going to come in-conference,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “We need to use our out-of-conference games for a lot of different reasons. These ones are about getting back into the swing of things by playing high-level competition. We want our standard up as high as possible immediately after the break. We don’t have to reinvent hockey, but we have to remind ourselves we want to play and get back at it.”

The notable stats for the Griffs:

• The penalty-killing unit is at 97 percent over the last seven games. They’ve scored two short-handed goals and given up just one power play tally in that span.

• Senior Kyle Gibbons leads the Griffs with eight goals and 13 points. He has 50 career goals, trailing only all-time leading scorer Cory Conacher, who notched 62.

• Tony Capobianco has a 1.78 goals-against average in his last five games.

• Canisius is outscoring opponents, 13-8, in the third period.

The Griffs begin the weekend looking to crack the No. 1 defense in the country.

UMass-Lowell is allowing just 1.88 goals per game. Ranked No. 10 in the latest USCHO.com poll, the River Hawks are 11-5-0 overall. They were the preseason No. 1 team after advancing to the Frozen Four last season.

Goaltending has been key with their two goaltenders ranking in the top six nationally. Sophomore Connor Hellebuyck has a 1.72 goals-against average and a .947 save percentage while senior Doug Carr has a 1.81 goals-against with a .933 save percentage.

“Lowell is a great opponent to learn from,” Smith said. “They have some very good players but they’re an excellent team – four lines, six D and two goaltenders. … To beat them we have to do a lot of things well.”

The Griffs and UMass-Lowell have met twice before, with the teams skating to a 2-2 tie on Oct. 25, 2003 and the River Hawks earning a 5-4 win on Dec. 29, 2005.

It will be the first meeting ever between Canisius and Vermont. The Catamounts are 8-6-1 and entered their holiday break with a 3-0 loss to No. 16 Northeastern. The loss ended a five-game winning streak for the Catamounts, who held a 44-24 shots on goal advantage in that game.

The Griffs return to Atlantic Hockey action Jan. 3-4 when they travel to Worcester, Mass., for two games against Holy Cross.

That weekend Niagara also returns to action, traveling to Waltham, Mass., to play Atlantic Hockey foe Bentley. The Purple Eagles are 3-11-2 overall and last played when they tied RIT, 2-2, at Frozen Frontier on Dec. 14.

email: amoritz@buffnews.com