MARIETTA, GA -- It is all coming together – the Atlanta Kings are able to see the new Atlanta Kings Sports Centre going up in Marietta, Ga.
It is part of a great year for the Atlanta representatives of the United States Premier Hockey League, as the former Atlanta Jr. Knights have become the Kings.
“We want to give our program a whole new facelift, a culture change,” said Kings general manager and USPHL Premier head coach Kevin St. Jacques. “Everything is new – the uniforms, the colors, the logo, the name – and it all comes with new expectations of what we want to do with the program.”
The Kings expect to have better drawing power for recruits than ever before, with their own facility.
“We’re moving into the new rink, which will have one full sheet and one half sheet. This will be the home for all of the Kings, from the U9 to the Premier, and possibly universities in the area that field hockey, such as Kenesaw State,” added St. Jacques. “It also has a wellness facility on site, with a gym, a pool, a massage center and physical therapy services.”
All of this is part of the Kings’ dedication to the goal at the junior level of preparing players for college hockey.
“We have to make sure we are preparing them on and off the ice, and that is what this new facility will give us the opportunity to do,” added St. Jacques. “We also want to make sure we are competitive at every age group. From our U8’s to the juniors, there is a little more expectation for all teams to be top notch.”
The U9 team has been to tournaments in Boston, British Columbia and California over the last year, helping to put Atlanta on the map in elite youth hockey circles.
It will be nearly a decade before those players can filter up to the junior hockey team, so while the team works on the youth organization, they are fully dedicated to having their best team be the one at the head, the USPHL Premier squad. The Kings aren’t afraid to admit they asked around for some advice and wisdom on how to put together a truly comprehensive junior program.
“I’ve talked in length with Ryan Cruthers about what they do in Charlotte. That is not to say I’m adapting exactly what they do, but I might adapt some of their philosophies towards our program,” said St. Jacques. “This will come in structure, in terms of expectations for the players. This is not just a situation where they practice and go home, but rather train every day, wear the team apparel every day. You need to treat this as more of a job, because when they get to college, they will have to earn a spot to play, and they have to learn that now.”
The Kings had five NCAA college hockey commitments from the 2017-18 season. Marc Baron, Brendan Bishop and Evan Schieber are all going to Worcester (Mass.) State University. Zac McKenna and Brendan Ferguson are advancing together to the Milwaukee School of Engineering.
There are an additional five players advancing to American College Hockey Association teams in the different divisions.
The work begins to put together the team that will send another group on to college hockey in 2019.
This past season, ’99 defenseman Aaron Szalankiewicz joined the Kings for the first time after two prior years of junior hockey. He wanted to get back to working with St. Jacques, who was his head coach at the U14 and U16 levels back in Richmond, Va. He likes the dedication to working with each player on bettering their game and their off-ice approach that St. Jacques brings to his teams.
“Developmentally, he couldn’t be beat. I personally think he cares for his players more than any other coach I have come across,” Szalankiewicz added. “When he realizes that you want to get better and move on in your career, he helps you reach those goals.”
Szalankiewicz is one player that St. Jacques may have suit up in Kings gear for the first time. He also understands that some players on his list of possibilities for the 2018-19 season may end up making National Collegiate Development Conference or North American Hockey League teams next season.
“I’ll be sending kids to the NCDC camps, the NAHL camps and we’ll go from there,” said St. Jacques. “Our NCDC affiliates are the Boston Bandits. I’m good friends with their head coach Scott Drevitch, so we’ll figure it all out.”
“Every year I send kids to main camps [for higher-level teams], as those are a better gauge to see where these players sit,” he said. “I don’t want our guys playing against kids their own age, I want them to play against kids who have played at that higher level, or in an even higher league.”
For now, the list of possibilities to build around include Premier veterans Szalankiewicz, Luke Babilon, Dominik Knap, Joey Onarato, Cullen Rush and Dominik Vollenweider. The Kings will also likely bring up the top two scorers from the USPHL Elite, Jason Foltz and Brandon Hardeman, to the Premier Division.
“I am looking for a good nucleus to start our whole new era,” St. Jacques said.
“I like the new name and the new logo. It’s a fresh start,” added Szalankiewicz. “It’s going to be really exciting to know that we’ll have all the luxuries of a new rink, with the gym right upstairs that we’ll have access to whenever we need, and extra ice time. There will be numerous opportunities throughout the year to help yourself get better.”
No other team in the Atlanta area has had the success the Kings have enjoyed in terms of advancing their players on to NCAA Division 3 hockey.
It is a message that St. Jacques is sending out around the country, and he is bringing it to the hockey masses as well in person.
“I’m heading up to the New England Pro-Am Pre-Draft Showcase to recruit. I also have a few friends who coach and run North American League teams, so I will be out at those camps,” said St. Jacques. “From there, it’s reaching out to the guys I’ve been in conact with before, coaches I know at the youth [midget] level who are moving players.”
The Kings had nine players from Georgia that skated in USPHL Premier games this past season, so developing local area players is a significant share of the overall mission for the Kings.
The junior program held a local tryout over the April 20-22 weekend.
“It would be nice to put a group of these kids together to represent the Atlanta area. We’ve scouted the state tournaments, and seen games at the youth level,” said St. Jacques. “We’re more of a presence in Atlanta than ever before.”
For more information on the Atlanta Jr. Kings, contact Kevin St. Jacques at email@example.com or visit online at www.atlkings.com
The Atlanta King Sports Center in Marietta, Ga., continues to undergo construction as it is expected to be ready for the start of the 2018-19 season. Courtesy Photo
The Atlanta Jr. Kings '09 team, one of the first in the organization to sport the new look, have been all across the U.S. and into Canada, playing in some of the most prestigious tournaments available for their age group. Courtesy Photo