ATLANTA — In the annals of most significant moments in Atlanta’s sports history, Jan. 5, 1994, probably does not register.
However, on that day, Roller Hockey International announced a new expansion team would be coming to Atlanta.
The Atlanta Fire Ants, formed by the Atlanta Knights organization, the minor league affiliate of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, would play in the 24-team league, which doubled in size from a dozen the year earlier. The league capitalized on a trend of the era: inline skating.
The fad soon faded as did the league, which folded after 1999.
Until Atlanta United came onto the scene in 2017, the Atlanta Knights had some of Atlanta’s most ravenous fans. Anyone who goes to sporting events in town today — more than two decades after the team left town — might still hear fans scream “KNIGHTS” during the national anthem, a tradition that started during the minor league hockey team’s tenure in the city.
The Knights hired John Paris Jr. in February 1994 to coach the Fire Ants. In his book, Paris indicates he was hired to replace the team’s coach, Gene Ubriaco, who coached the team to a 52-23-0-7 during the 1992-93 season.
The Lightning ultimately named Ubriaco as a pro scout and Paris the Knights’ new coach. Paris would also remain the Fire Ants’ coach.
During the 1993-94 season, Paris coached the team to the International Hockey League’s Turner Cup championship.
The Fire Ants played its first game on June 4, 1994, losing to the Minnesota Arctic Blast by a 23-3 score.
The team played their first home game on June 10, 1994, picking up their first win in franchise history with a 9-8 win over the Florida Hammerheads. A crowd of 5,582 made their way to the Omni to witness the historic event.
The team finished the season with a 10-10-2 record and averaged 3,388 spectators in their eleven home games. Attendance-wise, the Fire Ants ranked No. 16.
The team’s fourth-place finish in Central Division was good enough to qualify for the Murphy Cup playoffs as the eighth seed.
Forward Tony Szabo, who would go on to play five seasons in Roller Hockey International, led the team with 55 points (31 goals and 24 assists).
The Fire Ants were swept in the best-of-three game Central Division semifinals against Minnesota, losing the first game on Aug. 18, 1994, by a score of 14-4 and the second game on Aug. 20, 1994, by a closer 9-8 margin.
After playing in Atlanta for a single season, the franchise moved to Oklahoma City. After the 1996 season, the Oklahoma City Coyotes relocate to Las Vegas and played one final season in 1999.