Long Beach’s Barahona seeking USPHL success in Atlanta
As a player, Ralph Barahona played hockey in non-traditional markets and helped the game make its mark on the West Coast.
Now as the head coach of the Atlanta Jr. Knights of the United States Premier Hockey League’s (USPHL) Elite Division, the Long Beach native has aspirations to build a strong, competitive program in the up-and-coming USPHL
“Being down in Atlanta, it’s kind of how it was when I was growing up playing in L.A.,” said Barahona. “There aren’t too many rinks, but hockey is a very small community and the number of kids just isn’t there.”
The Jr. Knights have an upcoming tryout camp at The Rinks-Lakewood Ice on June 18-19.
The 50-year-old Barahona coached for 12 years at every level of youth hockey from beginners to Midget Major with the L.A. Jr. Kings before joining the Knights in 2013. The owner of the Jr. Knights, Dr. Dominic DiDomincantonio, is a chiropractor who used to have his office in the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo.
“I had known Dr. Dom for years and played with him and against him in TSC’s men’s leagues,” Barahona said. “Then he bought this junior team about five years ago and three years ago, the coach quit early in the season and he called me up and said, ‘Hey, wanna coach a junior team?’ I was actually in Australia when he texted me and I responded with, ‘Well, I can’t exactly get there right now.’ I got to Atlanta and it was a battle coaching both the Elite team and the Empire team pretty much by myself, but I just went in there with a positive attitude and it worked.”
In the three years with Atlanta, the Jr. Knights’ record has improved each season and in two of the three seasons, Atlanta’s power play was tops in the entire USPHL.
With the Jr. Kings, Barahona coached Detroit Red Wings prospect Mitch Callahan, in addition to working with the family of Beau Bennett and many kids who are playing high-level collegiate hockey right now.
During his playing days, Barahona played six games with the Boston Bruins in 1990-91 and 1991-92 – a far cry from his youth days with the Southeastern Blues out of the Norwalk Ice Arena. Barahona also won two NCAA titles at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
In Boston, he was joined by two other California products in goaltender John Blue (Huntington Beach) and defenseman Matt Block (formerly Matt Hervey, from Whittier). Barahona’s father, also Ralph, was from Boston and to watch his son make his NHL debut at the Boston Garden was an amazing moment.
“After college, I wasn’t even sure what I was going to do,” said Barahona. “I asked my dad if I should even try to play pro hockey. Playing in the NHL was still a distant dream and he said if I did, that he’d back me up. There was a free agent camp out in Boston and I did really, really well – better than I ever thought I could do – and then I got an invite to their rookie camp and then to main camp. Two days into main camp, I was offered an NHL contract.”
Armed with the knowledge of what it takes to advance up the hockey ladder, Barahona certainly laid the groundwork for the current group of high-end players from California.
“These kids have to try and make the highest level they can, they have to see where they fit,” said Barahona. “I tell these kids to try their best, but if it doesn’t work out, don’t just quit on something you love doing. If it doesn’t work out at the Tier I or Tier II level and you need time to work on your skills, I would love to work with you in Atlanta.”
— Matt Mackinder