The expansion Kansas City Smoke want to provide their fans with, in the words of team president Eddie Whitmore, “an authentic KC experience.” As anyone who’s ever been to the city knows, barbecue is an essential part of that experience. So it comes as no surprise that during Tuesday’s game, the Smoke treated their fans to the “KC Bar-B-Q Battle.”
Between the second and third periods, public address announcer Curtis Burton told the fans that “it’s time to settle the oldest question in Kansas City once and for all: Arthur Bryant’s or Gates?” At that moment, two teams of youth hockey players skated onto the ice. But instead of wearing Smoke jerseys as usual, they were sporting the logos of Kansas City’s oldest and most venerable ‘cue chains. One team was clad in red and yellow with the familiar script of Arthur Bryant’s, a KC institution since 1940. The other team was dressed in black and red, emblazoned with the logo of Gates Bar-B-Q, which opened its doors in 1946.
“For generations, folks in KC have argued about whose ‘cue reigns supreme,” Burton continued. “Tonight, we declare a winner on the ice!”
The fans roared as the teams of youngsters raced up and down the rink, in search of slow-cooked glory. The Bryant’s team got on the board first, as 8-year-old Danny Kneuven buried a shot from the hash marks. But the Gates team didn’t have to wait long to get even, as 7-year-old Sam Gillard slipped one through the five-hole to make it a 1-1 game. Gates fans roared approval for the tally, and the whole stadium expressed their delight when Gillard celebrated by dropping to the ice and doing the swim.
In the final minute of the contest, Gates got a goal from 8-year-old Millie Watkins, and it looked as though they would be the victors. But in the waning second, Kneuven got free on a breakaway and banked one home off the right post to make it 2-all. Rather than settle the contest with overtime or a shootout, Burton indicated that the winner would be determined by which restaurant had the highest sales at that night’s game. (Both Bryant’s and Gates have stands at Heartland Telecom Center.) Fans of both joints lined up well into the third period to put their favorite over the top.
After the final horn sounded, Burton announced that Gates was the winner, prompting a joyful celebration from some fans and a moan from others.
The Bar-B-Q Battle proved so compelling that coach Randy Bergner hardly cared that the Smoke lost the game. “To tell you the truth, I was more invested in the Bryant’s-Gates contest than the actual game,” Bergner told reporters. “Too bad the wrong side won. Bryant’s for life!”
Whitmore proclaimed himself delighted with the event. “This one was a real hit with the fans,” he said. “Since it happened, I’ve been flooded with emails from people wanting us to include other places. ‘What about Joe’s? What about L.C.’s?'” Asked if he planned to stage the event again with a wider selection of restaurants, the president smiled and said, “Stay tuned.”
Whitmore indicated that the team was planning to expand the contest to music at future games. “There are other KC arguments that we want to settle,” he said. “Who’s the king of KC blues? Who’s the best jazz band in the city? We’ve got plenty of material to work with, because we’ve got such a deep and rich cultural history. As deep and rich as the sauce on Gates’ burnt ends.”