The Knights earned their first appearance to the USA Hockey Tier III Junior A National Championship in their inaugural season at the Junior A level. The 1st seeded Knights of the EJHL South had their work cut out from them. Their bracket contained the 1st seeded Chicago Jr. Bulldogs of the Great Lakes Junior Hockey League, the 2011 defending National Champions Helena Bighorns of the American West Hockey League and the 2nd seeded Long Island Royals of the Metropolitan Junior Hockey League.
The Knights game plan for the round robin portion of tournament would be the same as it's been since training camp. That is to play disciplined and defensive hockey first to frustrate opposition's offensive flow. Coach Scott Fankhouser systems have made the Knights a hard team to beat 5-on-5. It showed throughout all rounds of the tournament. The Knights first game was against the Chicago Jr. Bulldogs which displayed the Knights' defensive-first approach leading to counterattack opportunities. The Knights capitalized on multiple odd man rushes, creating forced Bulldog turnovers, resulting in a resounding 6-1 victory announcing that the inaugural Knights were a team to be watched.
The second game of round robin play matched the Knights against the defending National Champions, the Helena Bighorns. Utilizing Fankhouser's system, the Knights stymied the talented Bighorn offense. This frustration led to a Knights' power play at 1:45 of the first. With 35 seconds remaining in the period, the Knights' Jordan Simmonds capitalized resulting in a 1-0 lead. The Knights continued to shutdown Helena's high power attack for the remainder of the game executing their system to perfection. The 1-0 victory gave the Knights control of their own destiny in their bracket.
To finish out the round robin portion of the tournament, the Knights would face the Long Island Royals. Both teams were 2-0 heading into this game, which meant the victor would be guaranteed spot in the semi-finals. The Knights came out flying in the 1st and score 4 goals, two coming off the power play. The Knights showed their only lack of discipline during the tournament which resulted in the Royals scoring 2 goals. This brought the pivotal round robin game to a one goal Knight lead with the decision very much in doubt. During the 2nd intermission the Knights refocused, coming out and holding the Royals to seven 3rd period shots with the Knights prevailing 4-3.
The Knights were off to semi-finals to face the Billings Bulls. The game against Bulls would be the first time in the tournament that the Knights didn't score first. The Bulls scored at 18:01 to take the 1-0 lead. Five minutes later, the Knights responded by scoring the first of 3 unanswered goals and would skate away with comfortable 4-2 victory heading into the Championship game. With the Knights eagerly awaiting the results of the second semi-final game, the Knights' coaching staff prepared only to face a familiar opponent, the Long Island Royals.
With the Championship game opponents set, the Knights coaching staff reviewed their game plan from the first game against the Royals. The Knights coaching staff realized that Royals and Knights play a similar philosophical style. The team that was more disciplined would be the team to walk away with the championship. The first period would be a display of the Knights' intensity. The Knights peppered the Royals goalie Brendan Jones with 20 shots. The twenty shots resulted in two goals by Brent Kallio. During the 2nd period, the Knights and Royals played their defensive first philosophy and would trade power play opportunities. The Royals were the only team to capitalize, resulting in a Knights 2-1 lead at the end of two periods. During the 3rd period, the battle intensified where the Knights were forced to kill the only penalty of the period with 12 minutes remaining. But the Royals were quick to capitalize on their power play opportunities to tie the game with 11 minutes remaining. The Knights responded 14 seconds later with a goal by Michael Pearson that would ignite the entire Knights team. For the remainder of the period, the Knights hounded the Royals in their zone which led to a goal with 3 minutes remaining to take 4-2 lead. In desperation the Royals pulled their goalie for an extra attacker in the final minute. The Royals scored with 30 seconds left to narrow the Knights lead to 1. With time running the Royals wouldn't go away, winning offensive zone face off but the Knights cleared the puck. As the clock hit zero, the Knights bench erupted quickly pouncing on Knights goalie Derek Willms. The postgame celebration had began as each player had his chance to skate a lap with the Tier III Junior A Trophy. As the Knights gathered for the team photo, the entire Knights organization realized they had made their mark in the Junior A ranks. During their inaugural season, the Knights had conquered all Tier III Junior A leagues and represented the EJHL South and were the best team in the Tier III Junior A hockey.
The Atlanta Knights organization would like to thank the EJHL South coaches and players for their determination, skill and desire to make what we believe is the beginning of great things to come. The organization and the players also want to thank the dedicated fans of the Atlanta Knights organization on how they have supported the Knights throughout 2011-2012 season.