With $9 billion in assets and 114 branches in the Buffalo, NY area, First Niagara Bank falls into that grey area between community bank and super-regional. It's exactly the size bank some say will be squeezed by the financial crisis and the government's subsequent intervention through the Trouble Asset Relief Program (TARP) - too big to be a hands-on community bank, too small to enjoy "too big to fail" status among depositors.

But CEO John R. Koelmel doesn't see it that way. What he sees is a huge opening to gain marketshare as big banks pull back lending in his area, a chance to make strategic acquisitions, and the "rare opportunity," through TARP, to raise money on the same terms as Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase. Applying for the $186 million was a "no brainer," he says. "We're going to play offense, and to do that you need capital."

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