Somewhere in a small south West Shore enclave, the natives are getting restless. One of their own, one they have taken under their wing, is not being a good neighbor. "He's just using us," Lightning goaltender Mike Smith said. "He's using us for the food." It has been nearly a month since Steven Stamkos moved into a townhouse in the upscale Tampa neighborhood. Smith has had him over for dinner several times as have teammates Gary Roberts, Mark Recchi and Ryan Malone, all of whom live within a block or two of the 18-year-old rookie center. Not once has Stamkos returned the favor. "No, he hasn't," Smith said. "But I don't know. At 18, all I could cook was Kraft dinner and some Lipton soup; heat it up in the microwave. So, I'm not sure we trust him yet with his specialties." It is faux outrage. Stamkos has become part of the family, and his teammates have gladly taken the responsibility of watching over him while he settles, for the first time, into solo living.
It is exactly what the Lightning hoped when it suggested Stamkos move into the neighborhood. It is what Recchi and Roberts told Stamkos' parents, back in Unionville, Ontario, they would do.
"So important," Stamkos' mother, Lesley, said. "I'm sure he would have been fine, but we felt it was important that for the first year, he was around some of the other players."
"It is," Stamkos said, "a perfect situation."
Take moving day. Roberts was napping — "I took some heat for that one," he said — but Recchi was there to help.
When Stamkos needed couches, Smith gave him a couple he wasn't using, and a television. After Saturday's victory over the Senators, Stamkos went by Recchi's for a steak. A day later, he had dinner at Malone's, the day after that with Smith.
It is the best of both worlds, Recchi said. "He gets his own space, but at the same time, he has someone to go home with."
"Everybody is just making sure he's doing the right things," Malone said. "Everyone's house is open for him if he needs anything. If there's an emergency — say he sets his house on fire or something — he has somewhere to run."
The mix of ages also is good. Roberts, 42, and Recchi, 40, are the mentors with whom Stamkos, this year's No. 1 draft choice, talks hockey. Malone, 28, and Smith, 26, are Xbox partners.
"You don't really notice the age difference," Stamkos said. "They make me feel comfortable."
"We thoroughly enjoy having him around," Roberts said. "He's got that personality. He comes over and he's involved in the conversation, which is great. My wife loves him to death, and our little guy, is like, 'Let's walk over to see Stammer.' He's 3 years old."
And those dinner invitations?
With Tampa Bay, winner of three straight, beginning a five-game road trip tonight against the Devils at Prudential Arena in Newark, N.J., they will have to wait. Stamkos said it will be worth it.
"They'll be shocked at what I'm going to prepare for them," he said.
Any hints? "No," Stamkos said, "it will be a surprise."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.