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Air Force forward Pierce Pluemer watches the puck after tripping in front of the goal during a Nov. 8 game against the Bentley Falcons at the USAFA Cadet Ice Arena.

Army is Air Force hockey’s most hyped Atlantic Hockey Conference opponent, but the results have been uneven. This season, the Black Knights have some extra bite.

Air Force, which leads the all-time series 45-24-8 according to the Falcons’ records, is in West Point this weekend for the teams’ only meeting of the regular season. It’s one of senior Pierce Pluemer’s favorite in-conference places to play.

“Overall it’s the same, except you’re conscious. It’s a service rivalry,” the forward said. “It’s going to be a physical series, going to be a good matchup.

“The refs tend to put their whistles away and let us play, which is nice and will help us out a little bit.”

Army (13-7-1, 10-5-1 Atlantic Hockey) is not going to be a pushover this year. Picked to finish eighth of 11 in the conference preseason coaches’ poll, the Black Knights have defied expectations and were ranked No. 20 in the USCHO.com poll last week before falling to higher-ranked teams — including No. 6 Ohio State in overtime — at the Fortress Invitational in Las Vegas.

The Black Knights still gathered 31 votes this week. They’ve won six of their past eight conference games and sit second in Atlantic Hockey.

Air Force coach Frank Serratore called the team “old and deep” with “their fair share of nonconference pelts.”

“They’re a legit contender in our league,” Serratore said. “Traditionally, they’ve been good but they haven’t gotten it done. They haven’t really pushed themselves into that upper echelon.”

That will make it even more satisfying, Pluemer said, if Air Force (6-9-3, 6-5-3 Atlantic Hockey) is able to knock them off.

The Falcons are smarting from a 5-1 home loss to American International College on Saturday night, in which they allowed three goals in less than 4 minutes in the second period and couldn’t get anything going the rest of the way.

“We’ll put it behind us and learn what we can from it,” Pluemer said. “There’s some things we should definitely look at and work on, get better.”

“Unfortunately our goalie, who’s been playing awesome, couldn’t bail us out.”

Alex Schilling was yanked for the first time Saturday after AIC’s fourth goal. The sophomore is 6-2-3 (2.26 goals-against, .905 save percentage) since taking over in net Nov. 2 and likely has enough goodwill stored to earn the nod Friday.

Army has found its man in goal in junior Trevin Kozlowski (2.13 GAA, .914 save %). Seniors Dominic Franco and Michael Wilson lead the team in points and goals, respectively.

The series has the makings of a good one.

“Any time you go into Army, you have to be aware that they’re going to bring their A-game,” Pluemer said. “This year they’re definitely on the uptick.”

Serratore joins 1,000 club

Serratore earned his 400th win at Air Force before Christmas. On Friday, win or lose, he’s set for another milestone — his 1,000th collegiate game coached. He’ll become the fifth active NCAA Division I coach in that club.

Through 999 games over 27 years, Serratore’s record is 450-451-98.

He’s not preoccupied with it. In fact, he didn’t even know about it.

“A thousand games, a thousand games,” he mused Monday. “God dang am I old.”

Still no Mantaro

Luke Rowe earned his first career point Saturday with an assist against AIC. Air Force has needed him and his fellow freshmen defensemen to step up as injuries and other issues hit the roster.

Keegan Mantaro would have brought a year’s worth of experience to the young Falcons, but according to an academy spokesman, he is a cadet not in good standing.

The sophomore blue liner out of Monument, whose father played at Air Force, is still listed on the roster but hasn’t played this season. He appeared in 32 games his freshman season and had one assist.

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