Richard Adler and David Berkman worked behind the scenes for a number of years to bring professional hockey back to Atlanta. From the fall of 1989 to the winter of 1992, the Omni hosted six NHL pre-season games, the USA Hockey vs. Team Russia matchup and the 1992 IHL All-Star game. The Atlanta Knights entered the IHL during the 1992-93 season as the top farm team of the new NHL franchise Tampa Bay Lightning. The Knights would benefit from the arrangement, making the playoffs in all four seasons.
Tampa Bay signed 20-year old female goaltender Manon Rheaume, who played in a September 1992 NHL exhibition game against the St. Louis Blues. The move, criticized by many as a publicity stunt, generated much attention not only for Tampa but also for the Knights when Rheaume was assigned to Atlanta. On December 19, 1992, Knights Coach Gene Ubriaco inserted Rheaume into a game against the Salt Lake Golden Eagles at the Omni in relief of starter David Littman. Rheaume stopped two of three shots faced and became the first female player to play in a regular season professional hockey game in North America. On April 10, 1993, Rheaume was the starting goaltender against the Cincinnati Cyclones before a sell-out crowd of 15,127 at the Omni. Rheaume never played with Atlanta again, but saw sporadic action with other men’s minor league teams during the 1990’s, winning an Olympic silver medal at the 1998 Olympics with the Canadian’s women’s team.
Despite losing leading scorers Keith Osborne and Jock Callander, the 1993-94 season brought the city of Atlanta its first professional sports championship. Led by leading scorers Stan Drulia (54 goals), Steve Larouche (43 goals) and Jeff Madill (42 goals) and the goaltending tandem of J. C. Bergeron and Mike Greenlay, the Knights won their division for the second straight year.
During their years in Atlanta, Rick Morgan served as the team’s national anthem singer. Morgan was known for encouraging the crowd to shout “KNIGHTS!” while singing the line, “Gave proof through the “KNIGHTS” that our flag was still there.”
The 1994 Turner Cup victory was the pinnacle for the Atlanta Knights. With the 1996 Summer Olympics already awarded to the city of Atlanta, there was money available for the construction of a new arena. The success of the Knights led to talk of an NHL franchise in Atlanta. With plans being laid for the demolition of the Omni and construction of a new arena on the same site, the Knights were faced with no place to play. City leaders appeared unconcerned, leaving the Knights’ owners out of the discussions. The bottom line was the city wanted an NHL franchise to be awarded to Ted Turner, who already owned the NBA Hawks and MLB Braves. This left Adler and Berkman no choice but to relocate the franchise. Re-branded as the Quebec Rafales, the team moved to Quebec City, Canada but lasted only two seasons before going out of business in 1998. The IHL itself ultimately folded in 2001 after 56 seasons.
The Omni was destroyed on Sunday morning, July 26, 1997, but the memory of the Atlanta Knights lives on every time the National Anthem is played in Atlanta.
Under coach John Paris Jr., a late season replacement for Gene Ubriaco, the Knights had a terrific playoff run, defeating the Fort Wayne Komets at the Omni on May 25, 1994 to win the Turner Cup before the largest crowd in IHL history (14,107).