Kansas City is a barbecue town. They’re famous for, and justifiably proud of, their love of slow-smoked meat. The Kansas City Smoke took its name in honor of the city’s ‘cue heritage, and they refer back to it at every opportunity. Several of the city’s best-known barbecue joints operation concession stands at Heartland Telecom Center. They even had youth hockey players take the ice dressed up in the colors of local institutions Arthur Bryant’s and Gates B-B-Q to “decide” which reigned supreme.
Up until this point, the Smoke’s ‘cue connections have been a good thing for the team. This week, however, the team’s fondness for KC’s favorite food led to trouble, as the team was penalized for snacking on ribs instead of taking the ice.
The incident occurred in the third period of Sunday’s game against the Michigan Gray Wolves. The Smoke recently added half-racks of ribs to their concessions offerings, and team president Eddie Whitmore wanted to make fans aware of the new option.
In order to make a splash, the team armed their mascot Pitmaster Pete with a vending tray full of single ribs, and turned him loose during a stoppage in play to hand out free samples in Section 101, near the Smoke bench.
The idea was a hit, as fans clamored to get their hands on a rib. The promotion was so popular, in fact, that the fans jammed the aisle, briefly leading Pete to fear for his life.
But the real trouble began when some of the Smoke players noticed the commotion going on behind them, and discovered the rib giveaway taking place. A visibly annoyed D T.K. O’Neill began banging on the glass and shouting at the mascot, “Yo, bring those ribs over here! We want a taste!”
“The fans were way more excited about those ribs than anything that was happening on the ice,” noted O’Neill after the game. “On the one hand, that’s a little hurtful. On the other hand, I totally get it. Because who doesn’t love ribs?!”
With the help of his handlers, Pete wriggled free of the mob of fans and made his way down toward the bench. Several players, including O’Neill, held out their hands and demanded ribs. The mascot unstrapped the vending tray from his neck and passed it over the glass, where the players gratefully grabbed it and began chowing down.
Only one problem: the stoppage was over, and the Smoke were expected to send players over the boards to take the faceoff, but they were otherwise occupied. Referee Darren St. James skated over and asked coach Randy Bergner to put his team on the ice. Bergner ignored him, as did the rest of the team.
After asking repeatedly and receiving no cooperation, a frustrated St. James finally whistled Kansas City for a delay of game penalty.
“There’s a time and a place for eating, and it’s after the game is over,” noted St. James. “It’s my duty to keep things moving along. And besides, they didn’t offer to share.”
Bergner designated O’Neill to serve the penalty. He complied, albeit reluctantly. When he arrived at the penalty box, the first thing he requested was a towel to wipe the barbecue sauce off of his hands.
After the game, a 5-4 Smoke win, O’Neill indicated that he had no regrets. “Look, I love this game,” he told reporters. “But I really love ribs, and it’s not fair to make me choose between the two.”
Whitmore seemed pleased with the outcome. “We knew that the ribs were going to be a hit, but I didn’t think that they would be so popular that even the players would demand a taste,” the president said. “I’m just glad that Pete made it through all right, and that we still won the game.”
Whitmore said he would ensure that going forward, ribs would be included in the team’s postgame spread. “In-game snacks are a no-no, but I want to make sure they get their fix.”