The series winner between Army and Air Force could seize first place in the Atlantic Hockey Conference and add another chapter to one of college hockey's biggest rivalries.

"This is a big deal," Falcons coach Frank Serratore said. "[Having both academies contending] doesn't happen all the time. This means a lot to the military community in Colorado Springs regardless of the standings, but this year it means even more."

"Army-Air Force gets the attention of college hockey fans all over the country," he added. "...It means a lot and now it has big ramifications for the league title."

But even with a share of first place on the line, the coaches and player don't forget what makes the rivalry unique.

"I have been around rivalries where you wouldn't walk across the street with a glass of water if the other guy was on fire," Serratore said. "But between these service academies, and what they stand for, it's different."

After each game, the teams gather at center ice to raise their sticks to acknowledge both teams' fans and the players' shared future in the armed forces.

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"It's a message to everyone that this is a sport, but after this we're going out to fight wars and we're going to have it to rely on each other," Falcons senior wing A.J. Reid said. "It's a mutual sign of respect that we are able to get together and do that."

The last time Army and Air Force played games of this significance was in the Atlantic Hockey Conference playoffs championship in March 2007. The winner, Air Force, became the first service academy to qualify for the NCAA tournament.

It started a run of NCAA berths for the Falcons and a downward turn for the Black Knights. Army has rebounded with a run to the league semifinals last season behind the strong play of senior goalie Parker Gahagen, who has drawn NHL scouts' interest.

Although the programs haven't been close in the standings, the rivalry remained white-hot. Army defeated Air Force for the first time in five years Nov. 4.

"When they scored the empty-netter to seal it, I looked over to the Army bench and saw coach [Brian] Riley's hands go up in celebration," Serratore said. "You can tell how much that meant to them to finally get that win against us."

After Canisius' win over last-place Niagara on Tuesday, the Golden Griffins (11-10-5, 10-4-4 AHC) is now tied for first with Air Force (14-8-4, 11-5-2, 24 points) followed by third-place Army (12-8-3, 11-6-1,23 points).

"I think it adds to the rivalry as far as the fans go," Reid said of the stakes. "When we see Army on the schedule we know it is going to be a hard-fought battle. They like to slow us down by playing a pretty physical game. We always know it's going to be a good test."

This article is written by Joe Paisley from The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.