TAMPA — Sports analysts all got it wrong. Why did the Tampa Bay Lightning lose to the New York Rangers 5-1 in game four of the Eastern Conference finals?
It was the garbanzo beans. Call them chickpeas or what you will, but goalie Ben Bishop noticed their absence on the pregame salad bar. Not acceptable. Also, there must be the Breyers vanilla ice cream, the kind with the little black vanilla bean dots.
Rich Mathis, executive chef for the Lightning, had a light day of prep on Thursday in anticipation of today's game against the Chicago Blackhawks. The day before, however, was nuts. It was the first game of the Stanley Cup final, and Amalie Arena had a record night with over half a million dollars in sales. Chef Mike Lemore oversees the Firestick Grill, John Walsh is the club chef and Brente Bevitori is in charge of the luxury suites. But it is largely Jimmy Eckhardt who tends to the players' culinary needs.
There are a lot of culinary needs.
In the mornings, Eckhardt wheels three butane burners into the locker room and whips up omelets for players with cage-free brown eggs (after pepper jack disappeared from the cheese options and the team went bonkers, order has been restored). Last year the team was in a tizzy about gluten, this year they're less so. But trainer Mark Lambert maintains a moratorium on black pepper: Mathis and team sub out white, no questions asked.
As far as Mathis can remember, the lunch lineup has been the same for the past seven years. Grilled chicken, grilled salmon, Asian pork loin, a meat sauce that can be paired with regular or gluten-free pasta — all eaten around 11 a.m. after a morning skate. After lunch it's home to nap, then back to the arena at 4:30 or 5 p.m.
"Then there's oatmeal and grilled chicken and rice, but a lot of the players don't touch it," says Trevor van Knotsenburg in media relations. "A lot of guys are superstitious."
Center Brian Boyle has to eat a spinach salad (no mesclun mix!). Bishop has a 24-ounce cowboy steak after games. The players believe fervently in ranch dressing and New England clam chowder and taco Mondays on practice days. Kitchen worker Susan Krygier makes the players' birthday cakes (she's not the pastry chef, Mathis says, but makes a mean Cake Boss-style fondant cake).
Despite the rigidly codified menu (each player receives a personally tailored protein shake after games courtesy of Lambert), the Lightning gets culinary surprises from time to time. After a Detroit Red Wings game Mathis poached an entire octopus — in homage to Detroit's ritual on-ice salute — and, Lemole says, players "ate the hell out of it."
Does Mathis ever shoot and not score with players? Nah, he says.
"They're kids. They love everything."
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