The End of the Knightmare

The Knights saga, as befitting their tumultuous 1995-96 season, came to an abrupt and angry end.

The Olympics were coming to Atlanta for the Summer of 1996, and the city was abuzz with new plans for new arenas, new sporting palaces, and for once, there was money to fund all these grand schemes. And the Knights made no secret of it: They wanted a piece of the pie.

Forces bigger than the Knights, though, had taken note of the hockey renaissance the IHL team had fostered in Atlanta, and with the NHL set to expand itself to 30 teams over five years, it seemed only natural that in the time it would take to build a new hockey arena, a new NHL franchise would rise in Atlanta to fill it.

To make way for the new arena, the Omni would be razed. That left the Knights in a precarious position, and team management delivered an ultimatum to the office of then-Mayor Bill Campbell: Give us a voice in the new arena plans, or the Knights would bolt.

The city did not act on the Knights ultimatum, although Campbell's office professed to be stunned. More cynical observers would have said that the Knights management simply wanted to be able to go ahead with life after the Omni wherever it would take them, and Campbell wanted them out of the way quietly to appease the eventual owners of the new NHL franchise.

Rafales Logo The Knights franchise relocated to Quebec City, a town the NHL Nordiques had recently jilted on their way to becoming the Colorado Avalanche. The franchise played on for two unremarkable years as the Quebec Rafales to indifferent crowds. A number of Knights players remained with the Rafales, but most scattered to other teams, other leagues, or to Europe. Concurrently, the Nashville Knights relocated to Pensacola and rechristened themselves the Pensacola Ice Pilots. Both teams changed uniforms and color schemes, leaving no visible trace of the Atlanta Knights logo, mascot, or motif behind. The Rafales succumbed after the 1997-98 season; the Ice Pilots remained active in the ECHL until 2007 under a number of different ownership groups. The most recognizable survivor was Sir Hat Trick, who was reassigned to the ECHL Birmingham Bulls (also owned by the Knights' Berkman/Felix group).

Atlanta labored on for three years without a professional hockey team. Atlanta fans had to make a four-hour drive to see the ECHL's Augusta Lynx (folded 2008) or Birmingham Bulls (folded 2003), or a ninety-minute drive for the CHL's Macon Whoopee (folded 2002).   The puck would not drop in Atlanta again until 1998 when the new Atlanta Thrashers took the ice. The Thrashers never acknowledged the Knights franchise, or even any of the contributions the Knights made to hockey in Atlanta. The exception is a single goal frame the Knights used at the Omni, which hangs in the Philips Arena gift shop. Only one former Knight has appeared on the Thrashers' roster, forward Glen Metropolit. The only recognizable member of the Knights organization active with the Thrashers was radio-TV play-by-play broadcaster Dan Kamal, who became the Thrashers radio play-by-play announcer in the middle of the 1999-2000 season (anyone at Thrashers HQ care to admit to hiring Scott Ferrall any more?). The Thrashers, of course, were sold to a thoroughly incompetent and underfinanced group, who abandoned the team to relocation to Winnipeg in 2010.

In 2003, the ECHL added the Gwinnett Gladiators, giving fans another option.  The Gladiators have held "Atlanta Knights throwback games," in which the Gladiators don a version of the Knights uniform.  By and large, however, the Gladiators actively shunned a number of the Knights' traditions, such as shouting "Knights!" during the anthem.

© 2019 - David R. Kendrick All Rights Reserved