It’s the latest sign of success from the east Cobb-based organization.
“We had a great group last year that won the South and won the North and then won the whole U.S. in Rochester,” said team owner Domenic Didomenicantonio, who, along with his wife, Kimberly, purchased the Atlanta Knights hockey organization last year. “We went from putting six kids into college last year to getting 14 kids in college, and up to 20 with scholarship offers. We went from struggling to get people to look at us, to now they look at us as the primary source in the South for hockey players.”
Such has been the growth of the Knights.
Established in 2005, the Knights, based out of the Marietta Ice Center, got their name from the minor league hockey team that played four seasons at the old Omni Coliseum in the mid-1990s. The focus of the current Knights junior organization is to develop young athletes and help them get to college.
“The Knights are a hidden gem in the city,” Didomenicantonio said. “The whole idea of the program is to put young athletes in college and get them college scholarships. The last five years, we’ve been in seven different national championships, and that’s great PR. Winning helps a lot.”
The Knights’ players are recruited from all over the country, but its foundation is developing the skills at the younger age groups. The Knights have programs ranging for 20-year-olds down to the 4- and 5-year-old age groups.
“We’re building it for the youth programs, but it’s for the whole community,” Didomenicantonio said, “When (athletes) get to that high level, we’re able to bring in kids from all over who need the opportunity or the exposure.
“We’ve asked professional coaches and players who have attracted players from the North to help with recruiting. Probably half of our team is from Michigan and Minnesota. Those kids have no reason to leave their area, but they do to come and play for a team and an organization that can get them into colleges where they might not have gotten the same looks in their local small towns and so forth.”
To further promote hockey and create activities and opportunities for children in the area, Didomenicantonio said the organization is in the process of building another hockey rink in Cobb County, which he expects to open next on Barrett Parkway near Town Center Mall.
“The exposure from a new rink in Kennesaw with 1,000 seats will allow us to be able to have an actual venue and showcase for parents and fans to come to,” Didomenicantonio said. “Only the big arenas in this city have stands, so this would be perfect for youth and allow us to really put juniors and semi-pro teams on the map.”
A native of Winnipeg, Didomenicantonio said he has a passion to keep hockey in the area as an option for youth players, even after the Atlanta Thrashers left two years ago — coincidentally, for Didomenicantonio’s hometown.
“The people that use the hockey rinks in the area are usually transplants from northern parts of the country or cold areas,” he said. “Now, they’re down here and they have their kids in hockey. We want to involve ourselves where we’ve talked to Cobb County and travel and tourism, and we want this to be where four or five of the schools add this to their PE programs.
“That’s where having more rinks, better programs, school involvement and a sense of culture can be presented to kids earlier. It’s easier to learn the sport and skating when you’re younger.”
The success the Knights have seen has Didomenicantonio confident that he’ll see even better results in the future.
“We want the city to know that there is a junior team here playing at a high level — equivalent to the top high schools in the city competing at the junior levels because our kids get scholarships, too,” he said. “More importantly, to let the schools and communities know that it’s not just for the older kids, but for the younger kids, because with that kind of exposure, they’ll have something they’re working towards.”