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The expectations were high for the senior class. After all, they were the core of a Canisius team that won the Atlantic Hockey tournament last year and earned the Golden Griffins’ first trip to the NCAA tournament.

The Griffs have been, well, the Griffs, with inconsistent results and a middle-of-the-pack record in the conference.

But the seniors know what a difference a weekend makes. Actually, they know what a difference a game, a period, a shift can make. And they’re ready to lead by example as the Griffs enter a home-and-home series with Robert Morris this weekend with the caveat of accountability.

“We met as a team a couple of weeks ago and said, as seniors, we are going to lead, but we don’t expect you guys to do the little things if we’re not doing them,” captain Ryan Bohrer said.

“I think earlier in the year we were saying what we wanted to say, but we weren’t necessarily doing it. Now with four regular season games left, as senior leaders we need to step and do it.”

The challenge is slightly different at Niagara, which enters this weekend with a home-and-home series with league-leading Mercyhurst.

Last year at this time the Purple Eagles had already wrapped up the regular season conference title, were nationally ranked and working to keep their at-large bid just in case something went wrong in the Atlantic Hockey tournament. And it did. The at-large saved their post-season aspirations.

It’s been a rebuilding year on Monteagle Ridge with just four seniors returning from last year’s success. But they learned a lot from the way they limped into the playoffs and they’re sharing the importance of practice with the underclassmen.

“Toward the end of last year we got a little comfortable with the position we were in,” senior captain Ryan Rashid said. “This year it’s a good thing not being comfortable with where we’re at because we do need to win.

“I think the biggest thing right now is just practice and bearing down Tuesday through Thursday to get us really prepared for Friday and Saturday. Practice always matters but especially at this point in the season, it’s probably most important.”

Niagara enters the weekend at 10-9-4 in conference play after splitting with Robert Morris last weekend. The Purple Eagles (10-16-4) are coming off a 5-0 loss to the Colonials in Pittsburgh and open the series with Mercyhurst in Erie, Pa., tonight before hosting the Lakers at 7 p.m. in Dwyer on Saturday.

Mercyhurst (17-12-5) is 15-4-4 in conference play and looking to lock up the regular season title and No. 1 seed for the playoffs. Niagara is still hopeful it can finish fourth in the conference and earn a first-round bye.

“Mathematically we haven’t been told we can’t get a bye yet, so we’re still playing for that,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “Our games with Mercyhurst have been spirited. They can run and gun, so they’re going to want a track meet. We want to slow it up and be a little more physical. It’s a tough matchup for us.”

Canisius is 10-10-3 in league play after another weekend split. In two-games series in Atlantic Hockey, the Griffs are 6-2-1 on the first night and just 2-5-2 on the second night.

But for coach Dave Smith there is plenty to like about the way the Griffs (11-16-3) are playing. He likes the energy and enthusiasm and the focus on improving every day.

“One of our strengths last year was looking forward – looking forward to the next challenge, and I believe we’re still doing that,” Smith said. “To me you can learn a lot from history, you can learn a lot from last weekend, but we need to get better today. We need to get better tomorrow. We need to keep working at our game. We haven’t hit on all cylinders for a lengthy period of time, but we’re getting closer. I think everybody’s waiting for that moment when it all comes together and then we’re going to have to work to keep it there. But it feels like we’re closer.”

email: amoritz@buffnews.com