Tag Archives: Bobcats

Trying To Regain Momentum

Lloydminster_bobcats2Why bother to sugar coat this?  Fact of the matter is it isn’t the best of times in Lloydminster.  Oil prices are horrible, there for a lot of people have either lost their job or are facing a very uncertain near future.  Bill 6 has people outraged and looks to be something that would change the face of farming in Alberta.  And the government in power both federally and provincially (at least for those on the Alberta side) aren’t what you would call “prairie friendly”.  Dark days are here and they look like they’re not going away any time soon.

 

Not the most uplifting start to this piece is it?  Merry Christmas by the way…

 

But this is a TOUGH f’n town.  Where guys who own companies drive the most beat up vehicles, could care less about personal appearances, and put in 16 hour days.  Ok, so maybe I can only think of 1 guy who does that (and those who know me know exactly who I’m talking about), but it embodies what the town is all about.  Whether you’re in oil, ranching or farming, you have to bust your ass to make a go of it.

 

So where am I going with all this?  Well we have a pretty damn good AJHL team in this city right now in the Lloydminster Bobcats.  And they’re at a crossroads in their season, ironically enough at the midway point.

 

The season started pretty much perfect.  They started off 7-0 and even in the 8th game which they lost 4-1 to the defending AJHL champion Spruce Grove Saints.  And the Bobcats really dominated that hockey and deserved a better fate that night.  They managed to get their revenge 8 days later, in Spruce Grove with an impressive 5-4 win, and just like in September the Bobcats rolled through the month of October.

 

But November was a completely different story.  Back to back home loses to the Sherwood Park Crusaders and the next night to the last place Fort McMurray Oil Barrons.  They escaped Sherwood Park with a 2-1 OT win on the 14th, but then fell once again to the Saints a week later.  They swept Fort McMurray in the last set of games in the month, but they were a lot closer than expected as they had to come from behind in the 2nd game to pull out a 4-3 OT win.

 

A flip of the calender didn’t do much good as they dropped one at home to the rival Bonnyville Pontiacs in OT.  Now, a 5-4 stretch isn’t anything to get too worried about for most teams.  But when you’re hosting the RBC Cup, expectations are sky high.

 

Some of it without a doubt is transition.  Gord Thibodeau is in the process of tweaking his hockey club, and things on the ice obviously aren’t going to be smooth to begin with.  It’s been a lot of tweaking too.  Since September 15th:

Out

Brett Everson

Ryan Ternes

Pat Geary

Allan McPherson

Ryan Hendrix

MacKenzie Bauer

Taylor Lotoski

Josh Giacomin

Zach McNeill

Brendan Kallis

Austin Yaremchuk

Marco Ballarin

 

In

Adam Berg

Stefan Wood

Greydon Robinson

Kris Spriggs

Brett Smythe

Greg Moro

And we still have a month to go until the trade deadline for Thibodeau to continue to make moves to ensure he has the roster he wants heading into the playoffs, and into the RBC.

 

And so Wednesday night the Bobcats reached that crossroads I talked about earlier.  Lose, and people are going to be asking what’s going on with this team which looked like a world beater in the first 2 months of the season.  Win, and that gets buried at least for another few days.  Oh and wouldn’t you know, it was the defending champs, top team in the league, and number 4 ranked team in the country rolling into town.

 

Like the last few weeks, it was a bit of a roller coaster for the Cats.  A dominant 2nd period left them with a 2-0 lead headed to the 3rd, only to let it slip away as the Saints tied it with under 2 to play.

 

But they didn’t fold.  They stuck with it, got the game to a shootout where they pulled out the 3-2 win.  Overall you probably wouldn’t say they played that well, nothing pretty.  But it rarely is when you’re looking to break out of a funk.  Nevertheless, that’s a huge win under their belt as we head into the 2nd half of the season.

 

Now they just have to build off of that momentum.  That’s what this town is looking for right now.  Something to build off of, get that momentum back.  It won’t be easy, and there will still be peaks and valleys, but the team just has to stick with it.  The talent isn’t going to be the problem, they’re pretty loaded.  If they want to win the Gas Drive Cup, and win the RBC Cup, they just have to take the cue from the people of this town.  When that momentum isn’t going your way, you just have to grind it out and find ways to win.  Eventually it’ll turn.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

Royal BobCats

 

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Terrible I know.  It’s the best I could come up with.  I was going to go with “Lloydminster Bobcats Awarded RBC Cup”, but I didn’t want to be original.

 

Well if you’re a hockey fan, and you live in the Lloydminster area, things haven’t exactly sucked lately.  The reputation this city is getting for hosting these big events is nothing short of remarkable.  “Lloyd sucks, this town is such a hole”….you aren’t hearing a lot from “that guy” these days are you?

 

I had heard the team and city was going to be awarded the event roughly 3 weeks ago, but held off saying anything about it on twitter until last week.  And even then I didn’t exactly come out defiantly stating “it is coming!!!” despite knowing it was.  I would like to break a story if I can, but I also don’t want to be the guy who does anything to ruin something like hosting an event like the RBC Cup!

 

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Rapuano is one of many Bobcats who could play both on Hockey Day in Canada and the RBC Cup

I can’t help but think of how cool of a Jr.A career might it be for a kid like Pat Geary, or Troy Rapuano, or River Beattie, or Mitch Brennan or so many of these kids who played on Hockey Day in Canada and now could play for the host team in the RBC Cup?!  That would be a run likely never duplicated.  Now, who knows what might happen as far as trades or making jumps to the next level, etc.  But right now it has to be exciting for the guys who have at least 2 years left!

 

So now the preparation will begin, and could this organization ask for better people to set the table than Gary Van Hereweghe and the returning Gord Thibodeau?  Up until last season Jr.A hockey fans in this town had always been clamouring for the days of Thibodeau coaching the team.  His squads in 98-99 and 99-2000 had been the most successful Jr.A teams in town until Van Hereweghe showed up last season and took a team that was expected to do nothing all the way to game 7 of the North semi-final against the Thibodeau coached Fort Mac Oil Barons.

 

Now a year later the Bobcats have both in the fold, and a team that is setup to do some damage in the next few seasons.  And I really think Thibodeau and Van Hereweghe will work well together.  Both like their teams playing very disciplined and structured games.  Detail oriented guys and it really was a chess match between the two in the North semi-final this past season.  They can both recruit as well as anyone in the AJHL, so with the built in advantage of hosting the RBC in 2016 you can bet that the Bobcats will be a pretty talented team the next few seasons.  A pretty crazy turnaround from the start of last season, and REALLY crazy from the end of the 2012 season when it looked like they were headed to Whitecourt!

 

Guaranteed the city of Lloydminster will knock it out of the park with this event like they do all the others.  Expectations will be high, because this town has set the bar pretty high!  As someone who has lived here most of his life, you constantly hear about the negatives.  Well we must be doing SOMETHING right, because big events keep coming and people from other parts of the country keep raving about the job we do putting them on.  Well, I use the term “we” loosely.  My sister is usually working her ass off helping put events like this on, I just look to leach off the credit she gets and then write about it all afterwards.  Damn, said that out loud…

 

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Lost the Battle, Won the War

 

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It sucks.  Flat out sucks.  I was messaging with Bobcats Captain Grant Baker for a bit after the game last night and I just felt sick for him.  Felt sick for the entire team.  I was fortunate enough to start doing the color (yes I use American spelling for you first time readers) commentary for their games back in January and frankly I sat in on one pre game interview with play by play man Shane Tomayer and didn’t really have anything to do with anyone on the team except for Grant and rookie forward River Beattie whom my sister and brother in law were billets for.  But nevertheless you get attached to a team when they go on a ride like this.  But even though it is now over, what an unbelievable run it was!

 

Whether it has been the Bobcats, the Blazers, or even the Lancers which I’m too young to have watched (don’t get to say that much anymore), this city hasn’t seen much quality Jr. A hockey over the years.  The Blazers had some pretty good years in the late 90’s/early 2000’s (as I hit on too many times during our broadcasts), they had a few years where they maybe would win a round, but nothing special.  The ONE season they had a team capable of winning the league happened to be the 99-2000 season, when Fort McMurray was hosting the RBC Cup and had bought…sorry, no backspace button….had BROUGHT in one of the best teams ever to play in the AJHL.  So I guess you could say this city has been snake bit when it comes to the Blazers/Bobcats.

 

It’s pretty tough to gain any traction when a team just seems to have 1 disappointment after another.  It finally looked like things had changed a few years ago when Brian Curran did a tremendous job here and was really the best coached we’ve had in Lloyd for a long time.  Curran had the Bobcats 3rd in the North and it looked as though they were about to go on a pretty good playoff run.  But just when it looked like things were turning, the team was swept in the first round and came close to being moved to Whitecourt.  Curran moved on to Drumheller, and even though the team was staying they were back to the bottom yet again.

 

Even after that scare of the team leaving, and now being basically community owned, it’s been tough to draw fans because quite frankly it doesn’t matter how anyone thinks the team will do, anyone from Lloyd just expects the team to never come close.  This season the team gets off to a very surprising start, maintains there spot in the top half of the North all season long, has maybe their best game of the regular season on Hockey Day in Canada in front of a packed house, yet games 1 and 2 against Whitecourt even though the crowds were solid, you could simply tell that people weren’t buying in.  Man did they ever start buying in….

 

I know I wrote all about it in my last piece on the team but game 4 in Whitecourt, trailing 2-0 in the 2nd to a dysfunctional but very talented Wolverines team, and they fight back to tie it.  Go down 3-2, tie it.  Go down 4-3 late in the 3rd of that game, and still down by that score with under 30 seconds to play.  Most teams don’t mean to quit in that situation, but you can’t help but get rushed, panicked, and frustrated.  They kept their heads though and guess who…Austin McDonald scored to tie it with just 10 seconds left and take it to OT where Taylor Mulder wasted no time ending things.

 

A winner take all game 5 is of course going to bring people out to the rink, but don’t think for a second the way they fought back in game 4 had nothing to do with it.  And they just kept building…oh hold on a second, I have to respond to Tyler King’s tweets as once again his picture of himself trying to look professional followed by his childish twitter fights are clogging up my timeline….ANYWAY, they just kept building momentum and this town really started to take notice this team wasn’t your normal Bobcats/Blazers team, they had something special going on.

 

The 99 team wasn’t as good as the 2000 team, but the 99 team came closer to going to the league final.  They were up 3-0 on the then St.Albert Saints with game 4 at home.  That team was led by Mark Hallem whom of course everyone who goes to the Civic knows because he’s the only one with his number retired.  But they were carried by mid season pickup Ray Fraser who had been with the Seattle Thunderbirds and was lights out for the Blazers.  He got hurt in game 4 of that series and everything simply fell apart from that point on.

 

So why bring that up…in the middle of talking about how great this year’s team was?  Well because this just had such a better route to game 7.  They go down 3-1 in this series and simply weren’t getting ANY breaks, especially in game 4 where they really controlled the game.  It would have been the easiest thing ever for this crew to pack it in.  It was already a successful season.  They were down 1-0 going into the 3rd and AGAIN they don’t die.  Fort Mac ties the game late, and AGAIN they don’t die.  Tanner Dunkle comes up huge in OT and they bring it home.

 

BjizFxjCMAA8zDjThere have been atmosphere’s as good as game 6 was at the Civic Centre, but not for a Jr. A hockey game.  And they didn’t let the fans down either.  For 60 minutes they played fantastic.  Chris Tai had a 32 save shutout and at the end of the broadcast I didn’t really even consider him for player of the game.  Wasn’t because he was in anyway bad, it was because while Fort Mac had 32 shots on goal, the Bobcats really gave them maybe 2 quality scoring chances.

 

If you tell someone at the start of the season that the Bobcats are going to game 7 of the North semi-final and the team is taking both a fan bus and a fan PLANE to the game and people all over town were gathering at each others homes to watch the game, simply saying you would be laughed out of the room doesn’t do that any kind of justice.  That would have been the equivalent of me telling you right now that the Oilers are trading Sam Gagner and Jeff Petry for Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty this off season.  If you thought I was serious what would your reaction be?  Exactly, yet the former actually happened.

 

Again, it sucks how it ended.  No power plays in game 7?  Brendan Saulnier wasn’t suspended after yet ANOTHER head shot on a player in this series?  It sounds like sour grapes to say things like “the refs cost us the game”, but it’s no secret with anyone who knows the league that  Fort Mac somehow magically gets the benefit of the calls a hell of a lot more often than not so I don’t blame anyone for saying that stuff.  But man alive does this team have nothing to hang their heads about.  They battled their asses off all season long.  A simply amazing coaching job by Gary Vanhereweghe.  I had been told prior to the season by former Blazer bench boss (and my brother in law, but that makes it sound less professional) Danny Haygarth “unreal hire, he’s a GREAT coach”, and that turned out to be an understatement.

 

Selfishly I have to take a minute in here to thank Shane Tomayer for having me join him on the broadcasts.  This is the last time we will be doing the broadcasts and it sucks because Shane has done both play by play and color for the games for a lot of years and he does a great job as I’m sure a lot of you have found out.  Don’t know why he wanted me to come in a wreck that….I was horribly rough at the start and by game 6 of the semi-final I was only below average, but I had such a blast doing the games!

 

But this is about the team and I don’t know how many of the boys, if any, will read this.  They’re setup to have some great years in the seasons to come, but this group will be known as the one that started it all.  Every single one of those kids bought into Vanhereweghe’s system and battled every single night.  Changing the culture is the hardest thing to do in sports, even in junior hockey where rosters are turned over dramatically and no team has more than a 1 or 2 year window to win.  Trust me though, there have been some pretty talented teams in this town who had little to no success at all.  This team changed the culture.  It was an unreal run, you got the city buzzing about the team, tough for the boys to be pumped about this right now but this was an insanely successful season, today this town is saluting you guys.

 

Crowd Salute

 

Follow me on twitter @TJ_Soups

Clawing Back

 

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See what I did there?  Clever hey?  I wonder how many guys in this town have come up with the same headline?  Colin Budd, Robb Fenton, Chris Roberts, now Andrew Brethauer….I’m going to guess they all used the exact same headline at some point, so really it’s not anything creative.  Having said that, it’s as fitting as it gets.

 

On the road, goalie Chris Tai pulled for the extra man, trailing almost the entire 120 minutes while on the road for games 3 and 4 in Whitecourt, and with 10 seconds left in their season Austin McDonald came up huge and gave the Lloydminster Bobcats new life.  For the Whitecourt Wolverines, there is simply no way in their minds they weren’t already on the bus headed for Spruce Grove to start their 2nd round series against the Saints.  It’s only natural that they would have been thinking that way.

 

Taylor Mulder was able to complete the epic game 4 comeback 4:35 into OT forcing the 5th and final game in Lloyd.  And for the Wolverines, what is about a 5 hour bus ride to Lloyd likely felt like 5 days.  To comeback from that kind of kick in the stomach is a pretty tough task.  But the Bobcats had a similar kick in the gut in game 2.  Blowing leads of 3-0, 4-3, and 5-4 before finally losing in OT 6-5.  And not only that, but they had to deal with an injury to their captain and top D-man Grant Baker, and Chris Tai after posting a shutout in game 1 was sidelined with food poisoning for game 2 and 3, and probably still wasn’t feeling all that great in game 4.

 

After seeing how the series changed after game 2, it was tough to imagine the Wolverines could stay with the Bobcats in game 5.  The Bobcats had all the momentum and it showed early in game 5.  Lloyd controlled the play early, and the Wolverines D had a lot of trouble handling the Bobcats forecheck and it burned them early as the goals by McDonald and Tanner Dunkle were both a result of the Whitecourt D were unable to handle the pressure.

 

After that, Tai took over as the Wolverines tried to push back.  Late in the 1st, the AJHL’s leading scorer Colten Mayor got left all alone as the puck game to him in the slot, and Tai made an acrobatic 10 bell save to keep it a 2-0 game.  Late in the 2nd on the PK, after Lukas Biensch scored a back breaker to make it 3-0, he once again stepped up as Wolverines defenceman Tyson Helgeson who was able to unleash a bullet with a wide open lane to the net but again Tai stepped up.

 

Matt Abt, who was simply a stud all series long, got the Wolves on the board to make it 3-1 early in the 3rd, but then Austin McDonald, who might be the most dangerous player short handed in the AJHL, sniped an absolute beauty walking around Gionni Magone and going back hand, top cheese to basically seal the game and the series.  After that, despite getting a goal from Colten Mayor to make it 4-2, the Wolverines were completely out of gas.  Hardly any push in the final 10 minutes of the hockey game as having to lean on their star players all series while Bobcats head coach Gary Van Hereweghe was able to get quality minutes out of all 4 of his lines and all 6 of his D-men.

 

Quite a season for the Bobcats.  Not much was expected out of this team entering the year, and frankly this town never expects too much out of their teams.  The one time Lloyd had a look at going to RBC Cup was in 2000 when Fort McMurray was completely loaded due to hosting that year.  This was the first playoff series won at home in 10 years.  So this team has really overachieved in the fans mind this season.  Then of course hosting Hockey Day in Canada back in January, and now coming back from 2-1 down to a top heavy Whitecourt team on the road and closing the series out at home.

 

It won’t be easy in the 2nd round against the Fort McMurray Oil Barrons, but the Bobcats took 3 of 4 points to end the season at home against the Oil Barrons when the MOB were still fighting for 1st overall.  So they’ll have some confidence entering this series.  I’m expecting a great series.

 

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Beauty Day!

 

What a show put on by CBC and the city of Lloydminster this past week.  For those who don’t live in the area, it is fashionable for the locals to bash the city.  Not to be anything of a hypocrite, I find myself doing it from time to time.  Hey, I want to fit in with the cool kids at school….which isn’t easy for a 30 year old wannabe like myself!  But the truth is while it is a small town and definitely has it’s warts, the good far outweighs the bad.  And while I put up with some of the local bashing, when I hear it I also take it a little bit personal despite speaking up.  That’s where I grew up, my family lives, the large majority of my friends are from the area, I don’t really get a thrill out of hearing it to put it nicely.  ANYWAY, it’s nice to be able to stick the chest out a little and brag it up.  Hockey Day in Canada has allowed me to do just that.

 

Not in anyway a shock to me that this thing was such a huge hit.  And it was actually a hit.  Sometimes you hear that stuff from the people involved and the bigger names who come for it.  You HAVE to say those things no matter how the events go, nobody is ever going to be the guy that says “hey Lloyd, that was terrible, and the city should be ashamed of itself”.  But I got the chance to hang around Saturday night after the Bobcats game and talk to some of the alumni players and media members from out of town and off the record they were still singing the praises.  Greg Sansone now of Sportsnet was raving about it and said privately all the guys were as well.  That stuff really is great to hear and know that those guys aren’t just saying it because they have to.

 

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Tuesday morning’s unpleasant surprise

Obviously the concern on Tuesday was when the one corner of the outdoor rink blew down.  The thing that shocked me was how shocked everyone from out of town was that they were able to get the rink put back up in time.  Maybe I’m just used to that kind of work ethic from the community.  I mean I’m a guy who puts in 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, tries (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) to get a workout in and possibly to post something that’s worth your while to read on here at some point after work.  Yet there are a lot of days where I question my work ethic because I’m flooded by people who do that and then some every day as well.

 

Rusway had a big part in putting the rink back together.  Well my dad and Uncle’s company (Valley C, for whom I work for as well) do just about every job along side Rusway.  Very rarely a day goes by that there isn’t a Rusway/Valley C combination on a job site.  There are days where I talk to their foreman Bert more than I talk to guys I work with!  But anyway the point is it just never ever crossed my mind that it wouldn’t get done.  That’s because that is what I’ve grown up in.  Everyone chips in, things get done, they done quickly, and they get done right.

 

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Tomayer and Campbell look good behind that desk, I know you’re reading this Scott Moore…

The week seemingly went flawless, at least I never noticed anything going wrong (after the rink was fixed up), all the events were amazing, other than being windy as hell the weather was awesome which made it easy for people to actually want to go out to the events, and the big thrill for me was getting to join Shane Tomayer in the broadcast booth and do color commentary for the game on FASTHockey.com.  And Shane did an unreal job on the play by play because I’m sure you all seen the Bobcats uni’s for the game…it was NOT easy to see those numbers!!  Add to that, Sherwood Park’s uni’s didn’t have numbers on the shoulders, and it isn’t as if we have a monitor to see the game more clearly than we can from the North East corner of the Civic Centre.  Yet the man was flawless in his call of the game, and does not only a damn good call of the game, but an entertaining call as well.

 

We mentioned it A LOT on the broadcast, but it was so difficult to do with so many distractions.  I can’t think of anything witty in this spot so I’ll just go with the cliche…I was a kid in a candy store!  Craig MacTavish and Mark Napier standing right in front of us during the broadcast.  Lanny McDonald going out of his way to come introduce himself to Shane and I while doing the opening for the game.  Dirk Irvin whom I simply had to go mid broadcast just to shake his hand and say hello while he wasn’t being bothered.  Darcy Tucker during the 2nd intermission doing the same as Lanny did and since we weren’t on the air talked us up for a good 10 minutes all on his own.  Marty McSorley doing the same thing after the broadcast was over.  Greg Sansone from Sportsnet who came down to check out some things for Rogers who will be running that show from now on talked to Shane and myself for probably 15-20 minutes near the end of the night.  And all chatting us up like we had all hung out before.  Now I’m not stupid, they had some “influence” in their system which usually brings the personality out in people….but nonetheless they were all just awesome!

 

Maybe the most relieving part for me was that the Bobcats were able to maintain a high energy level for the full 60 minutes in a 3-0 win.  When it was still only 1-0 after 2, I was pretty paranoid that the Crusaders were going to get that one golden opportunity, and with Devin Green seeing hardly any action all game long they would be able to snipe and take all the air out of the arena.  But luckily Green did a great job of staying focused, made the big save when he had to, and the Tanner Dunkle put 2 home at the other end to seal a huge victory not only because it was on HNIC, but the Crusaders and Bobcats are neck and neck in the standings.  From start to finish, the Bobcats dominated out shooting Sherwood Park 35-15.  Awesome to see!

 

I’m still not sure how after 30 years of being so hockey obsessed that it’s my sister who gets to stand behind Don Cherry and not me.  Just because she was one of the “organizers” and actually put in a lot of work for the event, that’s just ridiculous that she gets rewarded for hard work….in all seriousness that was pretty cool to see, although for myself I was stressing the entire time knowing that she would want me taking pictures of it with HER camera and I didn’t have it…but that’s another story.

 

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Ron and Don during Coaches Corner

Of course I can’t end this without talking about Ron McLean.  Grapes gets all the glory, and understandably so.  But McLean is simply one of the finest Canadians walking the earth today.  Think I’m overstating that?  You can think that all you want, I honestly believe that.  He lives this event every year more than anyone else.  The whole week he is involved in absolutely everything he possibly can be.  The man had to of put in hundreds of hours reading up on Lloyd alone, let alone all the other work he would have had to do to get ready for the event.  He stands on the ice during hockey day and rattles off fact after fact and stories and name drops the local teams and people he had literally just met and does it with no assistance.  No prompter, nobody feeding him this through his earpiece, it’s all him.

 

My buddy Drew Dalby from the GOAT was telling me that when he came into studio last week, Ron had studied up on Drew!  And then name dropped him on the broadcast Saturday!  And while I unfortunately didn’t have the privilege to meet him (despite being literally 10 feet away from him most of Saturday night), anything you ever hear about the man is how genuinely nice of a man he is.  Has all the time in the world for everyone and nobody has one bad thing to say about the man.  He is as hard working, successful, famous and yet the most humble man and I simply cannot say enough great things about Ron McLean.

 

So hats off to not only Lloyd but the entire region.  The people of Kitscoty, Paradise Valley, Marwayne, Lashburn, Maidstone and all the small communities around the region shouldn’t be forgotten.  Easy for me to remember that since I grew up with a Lloyd address and phone number, went to school in Marwayne, and played hockey in both Dewberry and PV (is that mixed race?)  So many people from the area chipped in to put this thing on and did so willingly.  This was a once in a lifetime chance for the city and it sniped top shelf.

 

Follow me on twitter @TJ_Soups