The Long Road To Nashville: How the Rideau Valley Vixens Became Canada’s First Representative at the WFTDA Championship Tournament

The Rideau Valley Vixens get lead jammer during their 224-139 semi-final win against Gold Coast at 2014 WFTDA Division 2 playoffs. (Photo by Joe Mac)

The Rideau Valley Vixens get lead jammer during their 224-139 semi-final win against Gold Coast at the 2014 WFTDA Division 2 playoffs. (Photo by Joe Mac)

It’s March 2013, at The Bunker in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and the Rideau Valley Vixens are playing the hosts, Toronto’s CN Power, in the final game of the annual Quad City Chaos tournament. This is the fifth game between the two teams in three years, in what would have been a burgeoning rivalry had the games not all been so one-sided: Toronto had won all previous meetings by an average differential of 126 points.

There is under four minutes left on the clock and though Toronto has not run away with it as they have in previous bouts, they are up by 19 points and have led for the vast majority of the game. The Vixens have stuck with a very tight jammer rotation all weekend, barely veering from it, but suddenly Coach Adam Tasanko taps his blocker Jessica Kuehl on the helmet and hands her the star. A versatile skater, she has not jammed all game, rarely ever for the Vixens at this point, but it hardly seems to matter when the whistle blows. Lock down defense, physical jamming, 20 points and 90 seconds later and the Vixens have the lead. On another Coach’s hunch, a second blocker, Sister Disaster, is then sent out with the star to close out the game. She picks up lead and the Vixens hold on to win by 13 in what at the time would be characterized as the biggest upset in Canadian roller derby history.

While that win did not directly lead to the Vixens’ place in the 2014 WFTDA Division 2 Championship game (they didn’t even make the D2 playoffs in 2013), it was a definite and noticeable turning point. From that moment on, the team—from its long-serving and well-respected coach to its core of veteran and well-respected blockers—began to carry itself with a little more confidence, even a hint of swagger. An attitude well-earned, as it’s been a long road for the Vixens; full of obstacles and potholes, peaks and valleys, including its fair share of strife and heartbreak. But then, isn’t that what champions are made of?

In The Beginning

Roller derby is a pretty big deal in Ottawa. Despite its relatively small size (just under a million people), outside of Greater Toronto and British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, there is no region in the nation that has more active roller derby players than Canada’s capital. Spread out over three senior women’s leagues, a men’s team and a burgeoning junior program, during the spring and summer months, it’s easy to catch roller derby every weekend in the city. And while having multiple leagues is not generally conducive to on-track success (for every distinct roller derby league in a city there is probably at least one melodramatic email chain and a string of broken hearts to go with it), the Vixens have (eventually) made it work.

Roller derby in Ottawa began in late 2007, and the roots of the Vixens can be traced all the way back to a meeting at the Babylon, a hard-to-define nightclub/dive bar on Bank St. It was there that the first meeting of Ottawa Roller Derby (ORD) took place. Founded by Kelly McAlear (AKA: Honey Bee), within months the league had a team, the Bytown Blackhearts, and had struck up an integral friendship with Montreal Roller Derby, who at the time was the closest league to Ottawa.

By April 2008, the team was set to debut at the Montreal’s inaugural Beast of the East, a tournament featuring the fifteen house league teams in Ontario and Quebec at the time and filled out by Queen City’s Devil Dollies out of Buffalo. Now seen as a seminal event in the development of roller derby in the country, it would be baptism by fire for the Blackhearts who were drawn to face off against one of the co-hosts, Montreal’s La Racaille, in the opener. They would lose 65-29, but for a roster that contained many of the key early league stalwarts, including current Vixens members Hannah Murphy, Sister Disaster and Drunky Brewster, it sparked in them a lifelong love of the sport.

The Blackhearts had more success later that summer at the Virgin Suicides Brawl, a Toronto-based tournament hosted by the Greater Toronto Area Rollergirls and designed to feature new teams and inexperienced skaters (that has since been rebranded as the Fresh and the Furious). Advancing to the final, Ottawa squared off against Hammer City’s Death Row Dames and after a tense last jam, appeared to have won the tournament, only to have the win stricken down after a recounting of the scores. They lost by a single point.

Both of these early performances proved to be incredibly important team-building trips for the young team, and provided essential foundational development for the skaters. However, despite the on-track success, behind the scenes, things were tense at Ottawa Roller Derby. The early days of new roller derby leagues, existing as they do in a sport that especially in 2008 lacked consistent and reliable organizational precedents, can be tumultuous at times and there were rifts forming in the new league. Citing disagreements in organization (single-owner business vs. non profit) and competitive direction, in the fall of 2008, the Bytown Blackhearts walked away from Ottawa Roller Derby and established itself as an independent, not-for-profit roller derby team.

Roller Derby Returns to Ottawa

In a 2010 interview, Jerry Seltzer told the story of roller derby’s first foray into Ottawa in 1961. Only two years removed from taking over the reigns of roller derby from his father Leo, Jerry ventured north of the border in the winter of that year. He joked that it was on that trip that the first ever flat track game was played when the truck carrying the banked track froze in Sudbury and didn’t make it to Ottawa in time.

On January 31st, 2009, the first modern game of women’s flat track roller derby would be played in Ottawa, a full 48 years after the sport had first passed through the city. On that day, in front of a sold-out crowd, the newly independent Blackhearts would host Montreal’s very strong B-travel team, Les Sexpos, with a roster featuring some of the key figures in the eventual founding and development of Rideau Valley: DDT, Soul Rekker, Blackout Susan, Scotch Minx and Screaming Meanie Massacre all helped round out the roster that would lose that first game, 108-65. It proved a valuable learning experience, and when the team travelled to Vermont to play Green Mountain the following week, they won narrowly 136-131.

Rideau Valley Roller Girls LogoAs winter 2009 played out and the Blackhearts were preparing to return to Montreal for the second annual Beast of the East tournament, further strain and disagreements with ORD forced the Blackhearts to abandon their name. However, they were able to keep the logo and, undaunted, pushed forward. Within weeks a new league was born, the Rideau Valley Roller Girls, featuring the old Blackhearts logo: a roller girl with one hand on a cocked hip and the other thrusting a still-beating heart into the air—and its first team was named: The Slaughter Daughters.

Entering the Beast of the East in 2009, most eyes were on Montreal and Hammer City, the two leagues that had dominated the earliest days of Canadian Roller Derby, but three years in, the Canadian roller derby landscape had changed considerably at this point and the tournament also featured hopeful and up-and-coming leagues from Tri-City (Kitchener-Waterloo) and London, Ontario.

While ORD’s new team Capital Carnage would get eliminated early, the Slaughter Daughters would go on to be the breakout team of the tournament, trouncing Tri-City’s Venus Fly Tramps and Forest City’s Thames Fatales before taking Montreal’s heavily favoured (and eventual finalists) Les Contrabanditas to the limit in a three-point quarterfinal loss.

It would be a launching point for the new league and within months they’d named a second house league team (the Riot Squad) and began talks to form a distinct travel team, one that could play against the newly formed travel teams in Hammer City, Montreal and Toronto.

The Vixens Come out to Play

It was snowing heavily in Toronto on February 27th, 2010, but nonetheless, ToRD’s venue at the time, The Hangar, was packed for the team’s first game of the new season. Toronto’s CN Power was preparing for a big year, and to kick things off, they were facing the newest team on Canada’s competitive travel team circuit: The Rideau Valley Vixens. The Vixens were overwhelmed on that night against their big sisters from Toronto, getting beaten 199-49; nonetheless, the game represented a new era for roller derby in Ottawa and momentum would only build from there, even while yet another league, Capital City Derby Dolls, formed in the city.

For virtually the next two years the Vixens would slog it out primarily on the road, and between one-sided losses to vastly more experienced Canadian travel teams, they would gain hard-earned road victories against WFTDA B-teams and smaller US leagues like Ithaca, Central New York, and Morristown. It was a tough, hard road that every aspiring WFTDA team goes through early on. While some never make it out, many eventually learn to thrive on the adversity and the travel. The Vixens persevered.

In June 2012, two years after the team’s debut, the Vixens would play their first WFTDA-sanctioned game on the road against Central New York. It would be a narrow loss–9 points–but would typify some of the consistency problems that the team would have in its early days in the Association (they had defeated CNY only a year before). For example, the Vixens would crush Buffalo’s Queen City by 89 points, only to turn around and lose by virtually the same score to the same team five months later. Or the 2013 upset win over CN Power would be followed by a smothering loss to the less talented New Hampshire Roller Derby.

In all, the Vixens would play thirteen games in 2013, going 7-6 for the season (6-6 in sanctioned Play) finishing 68th in the WFTDA and just outside of the Division 2 playoffs. But there was undeniably a new, single-minded competitive focus on the team and in the league, starting with the desire for many of the skaters to begin playing under their real names (at least at the WFTDA level) and the formation of a B-level travel team (the Sirens) that would become a key breeding ground for future Vixens. Similarly, in the 2013 off-season a new home team would be formed (The Prime Sinisters) and all three rosters would be shaken up to help create parity at the house league level in hopes of raising the league’s competitive level as a whole.

The Vixens began the 2014 season with a pre-season, non-sanctioned game against Alliston, Ontario’s, Misfit Militia, largely considered Canada’s top non-WFTDA team, and they’d win the scrappy affair, kicking off a five-game WFTDA winning streak that would see them solidify their Division 2 Playoff spot. They’d end up 7-1 on the season (6-1 in sanctioned play to improve 21 spots in the ranking to 47th) with only a late-season upset loss to Calgary spoiling their perfect record—but the loss provided a healthy late-season shot in the arm to refocus them for the playoffs.

The team was drawn to play in the Kitchener-Waterloo D-2 tournament, and in August became the first Canadian team to play a WFTDA playoff game on home soil. And they did not disappoint.

In one of the closest playoff tournaments in the WFTDA’s history, the Rideau Valley Vixens would be the outliers, dominating their quarterfinal and semifinal games (the 89 and 105 point differentials were the two largest of the tournament—only two other games all weekend had differentials higher than 50). When they squared off against Bear City Roller Derby’s Berlin Bombshells in the final, they would be part of history as one half of the first ever all-international WFTDA tournament final. It would, of course, go down as one of the great tournament finals in history as well, when the Vixens were able to hold on to a narrow lead in a frantic and thrilling last jam, getting outscored 20-18, but holding on for the three-point win and a berth in the Division 2 final against the legendary Detroit Derby Girls.

To Nashville and Beyond!

In 2014 the Rideau Valley Roller Girls have emerged from a potentially fractious Ottawa flat track scene to become one of the nation’s most competitive and successful leagues.

They currently have five skaters on Team Ontario (Murphy, Bottema, Margaret Choke, Soul Rekker and Sister Disaster—not to mention that Brennan, H.P. Lovecrash, and Melanie Austin are alternates); also, Soul Rekker and Murphy have both been on the national squad since 2011. In 2014, the league had its first house league regular season and championship (won by the Prime Sinisters), while its B-team continued to develop and extended its travel to outside of Canada (into Ohio and New York State). This all coming off of the Slaughter Daughters’ three-year run as the top house league team in the Canadian derbyverse, a run that included three straight appearances in the Beast of the East final, two of which they won. And now, of course, they have qualified for the WFTDA D2 championship game.

This Vixen’s roster is one that is built to win, and built to win now. They play a short bench relying on a few carefully crafted lines, and stick to tight jammer rotations. For example, in their playoff tournament, the team travelled with only 12 skaters, three who exclusively jammed. Of the nine remaining, seven of them played between 46% and 60% of the total jams in the tournament: basically two lines in an on-off rotation. Aside from a few star passes, their three primary jammers (Soul Rekker, Shania Pain, and Melanie Austin[Tatious]) jammed all but one of the team’s total jams on the weekend. All three of the jammers had strong weekends with Rekker scoring 345 points (second at the tournament) on 6.5 points per jam and a 66% lead percentage (both of which were tops on the weekend). Shania Pain finished fifth in scoring and recorded a 56% lead percentage. AustinTatious also cracked 50% (51.3%) and averaged a solid 42 points per game.

The roster is a strong mix of homegrown talent and well-integrated transfers. Four members of the charter (Murphy, Sister Disaster, Soul Rekker, and Da Big Block) remain from the Vixen’s very first game in Toronto in 2010, while another, Drunky Brewster, has become the bench manager. The team also features other homegrown talent in blockers (including Margaret Choke, Jane Rudolph, and Bottema) and jammers (AustinTatious). But some transfers are key as well. It’s been a few years since Brennan joined the league from Gainesville, Florida, while BlackeyE seems to have finally found a perfect fit after stints in Kingston and Toronto. Perhaps the biggest addition of the season has been jammer Shania Pain. Originally having learned her derby in the Yukon, Pain just completed her first season with the Vixens despite the challenge of studying in Saint John, New Brunswick, for the vast majority of the year. Although she missed a few games this season, she was incredibly impactful when present.

In Nashville on Sunday, November 1, 2014, the Rideau Valley Vixens will make history when they face off against Detroit for the D2 championship: it will be the first time that an international team will compete for a WFTDA title. Detroit will pose the biggest challenge that the team will have faced this season.

On a post on the Rideau Valley Roller Girls website after the tournament win in Kitchener-Waterloo, Coach Adam cited the biggest strength of the team as being their mental game, which has grown noticeably over the past few seasons: “I am beyond impressed with the mental fortitude and focus the team displayed,” he said. “We upped our mental game ten-fold and avoided every possible meltdown on the bench and on the track.”

It is true that there is something different about this Vixens team. You can see it in the focus of their gazes. It is the look of a team that has confidence in themselves and each other. It is the look of a team that is unified in its single-minded determination to win.

It has been a long, challenging road for the Rideau Valley Roller Girls and their Vixens, and even though it’s just one stop of many on a road that will continue long after this season, this particular one in Nashville has all the feel of being a bigger stop than most.

**Read the Nerd’s recap of Rideau Valley’s Division 2 tournament win here.

Team Canada Outpaces a Scrappy Team Ontario While Misfits Hold Off Bruisers

Alliston, Ontario, was the site of a fantastic night of women’s flat track roller derby where Team Canada continued to tune up as the World Cup nears, the host Misfit Militia picked up a big win, and some of Eastern Canada’s best junior skaters took to the track for an all-star exhibition scrimmage.

Members of Team Ontario and Team Canada celebrate after their game. (Photography by Joe Mac)

Members of Team Ontario and Team Canada celebrate after their game. (Photography by Joe Mac)

It’s going to be a bittersweet 2014 Blood & Thunder Roller Derby World Cup for fans of Canadian roller derby. The team looks strong in the lead up to what will be the largest global roller derby event in the history of the sport (in any of its various incarnations), and it shoulders expectations to repeat as silver medalists. Yet at the same time, it will represent the final skate for many of our nation’s early stars of the sport, some of whom were featured front and centre on Saturday night at the Alliston Memorial Arena. 2011 World Cup MVP Smack Daddy, her Montreal counterparts Georgia W. Tush and Lil’ Mama, along with Toronto’s (Dusty) Watson, all have announced their intentions to retire after the 2014 season and were key pieces on Saturday as Canada held off Team Ontario 195-99 in a thrilling game of roller derby.

Although Team Ontario regulars Watson and Dyna Hurtcha were maple-leaf clad on Saturday, it was still arguably the best Team Ontario roster we have seen take the track yet, and one that included Team Canada members Murphy, USS DentHerPrize (of the Detroit Derby Girls), and Soul Rekker. This stacked provincial roster caught Canada off guard, overwhelming the national team at the opening whistle with Tri-City’s Ova’Kill taking the first lead of the game behind the support of a terrifying Ontario power line of Murphy, Sofanda Beatin, Margaret Choke and Wylde Leigh Coyote. The opening five minutes were actually dead even with the teams trading power jams and Canada just able to slip ahead 14-10. However, over the next 10 minutes the national team woke up and went on a dominant 10-minute run, outscoring Ontario 56-6 to take a 70-16 lead midway through the opening half.

Kim Jana finds an open outside lane for Team Canada. She was part of a deep Canadian rotation. (Photo by Joe Mac)

Kim Jana finds an open outside lane for Team Canada. She was part of a deep Canadian rotation. (Photo by Joe Mac)

Ova’Kill was joined on the jam line by Rideau Valley’s Soul Rekker and Toronto’s Motorhead Molly, with Rideau’s Austintatious getting in on the action as well. They faced off against a fearsome Team Canada rotation of Mel-e-Juana (Montreal), Kim Janna (Terminal City—she looked impressive coming back from a serious leg break), Watson (Toronto), and Calgary’s 2014 breakout star Kris Myass, who was virtually unstoppable in carving up the track for Team Canada and seems to be the anchor of the offense as we lead up to the World Cup.

After the flurry by Canada midway through the half, Ontario tightened things up once again. There were some incredible stand-outs in the Ontario pack led by Murphy (who formed great packs with RVRG teammates Bottema and Margaret Choke and Tri-City’s Wylde Leigh Coyote), but also featuring strong performances from across the board, including Sofanda Beatin, hometown skater Renny Rumble, and pivot Sister Disaster.

Stats were tight in the first half with the teams virtually even in leads and power jams (although Canada was much more successful in this regard and also more proficient on the power kill), and the final fifteen minutes of the half were a virtual stalemate with Canada barely outscoring Ontario 31-30 over that span to hold a 111-46 lead at half.

Canada pivot Demanda Lashing tries to open a lane between Murphy and USS DentHerPrize. (Photo by Joe Mac)

Canada pivot Demanda Lashing tries to open a lane between Murphy and USS DentHerPrize. (Photo by Joe Mac)

Following the World Cup rules that allow for substitutions from beyond the fourteen on the bench, Team Canada sat veterans Smack Daddy, Tush and Watson for the second half to bring in luludemon and the dynamic triple threat Dyna Hurtcha, who tore up the track at every role in the second half. While former Team Canada stars like Mackenzie, Jess Paternostro and Lil’ Mama remain key pieces, it feels as if there is a passing of the torch going on with Team Canada right now, and the new generation of skaters are stepping up to lead the way. Montreal’s Demanda Lashing and Hughes (Surgical Strike) along with Windy City’s KonichiWow, Terminal City’s Karlene Harvey (Buffy Sainte Fury), and Toronto’s Dyna Hurtcha were the dominant forces in this game and helped to maintain Canada’s lead, 145-61, at the midway point of the second.

Canada had a far greater lead jammer percentage in the second half (about 80% to 20% after being close to even in the first) allowing them to hold back an inspired Team Ontario and record the 195-99 win.

Nerd Glasses

This was the third meeting between the Bruisers and the Misfit Militia in the last three years; they'd split the first two games. (Photo by Joe Mac)

This was the third meeting between the Bruisers and the Misfit Militia in the last three years; they’d split the first two games. (Photo by Joe Mac)

The opening game of the double header featured the hometown Misfit Militia squaring off against their Toronto rivals, the Bay Street Bruisers (ToRD’s B-Travel Team). This was a rubber match of sorts as the teams split two decisions over two years leading up to this meeting. Things started tight with both teams trading early power jams and the Militia pulling ahead 10-9; the Bruisers would roar right back to take an 18-14 lead before the Militia stole the lead back 27-18, all before the 10-minute mark of the first period.

The turning point of the first half occurred near the 20-minute mark when Misfit Militia locked down the defense and jammer Smoka Cola managed four natural grand slams in a 23-point jam that gave the Militia the biggest lead of the game, 59-28, which they would maintain at half, leading 93-40 at that point (Smoka Cola had a remarkable 62 points at the break, while the Bruisers scoring was evenly spread out over its four jammers).

The home team went on an 18-6 run to start the second before the Bruisers began a sustained pushback, but the Toronto team was never quite able to overcome the gap. Remarkably, lead jammer status was nearly even throughout (with the Militia holding only a slight 20-19 advantage) as were power jams, but the stunning defense and stifling penalty kill of the Misfit Militia stole the show and kept the Bruisers at bay. In the end, Smoka Cola recorded a game high 87 points while Bellefast (skating for Toronto in her hometown) led the way for the visitors with 44 points (Sleeper Hold, who had a rough first half, bounced back big time in the second and ended up with 28 points). Although the Bruisers, who finish the season 7-5, slightly improved upon last year’s 90-point loss, with the 174-104 win, the Misfit Militia (7-1) proved once again that they are one of the (if not the) nation’s top non-WFTDA affiliated leagues.

Nerd Glasses

Despite rumblings to the contrary on social media and in roller derby forums, the sport of roller derby has never ever been as healthy as it is today (not even close): more people are playing it in more countries than ever, and more people are watching it and exposed to it than ever before. I was never more aware of this than on Saturday while sitting at an old-school wooden-bleacher iceless hockey arena in a rural Ontario town that itself has two distinct roller derby leagues, where our national team was facing off against one of its provincial counterparts, all under the awe-filled gaze of a group of junior-aged players who were in town to try out for their own national team.

Just fourteen years ago—less than two decades!!—not only would no one have believed this possible, no one would have even thought to consider it.

Next stop on the road may be Nashville for the WFTDA Championship, but just over the horizon, Dallas looms.

*** Check out layer9.ca for trackside video coverage, and local viewers check local listings for Rogers TV rebroadcasts of the game.

Steady Dolls Hold off Relentless Gores to Retain ToRD Title

The Dolls defended the Boot in a tight, scrappy bout against the Gores, while the Betties closed out a challenging season with a big win over the Renegade Derby Dames’ Striking Vikings.

The Dolls joined the Gores (2009-10) and the Chicks (2011-2012) as back-to-back ToRD champs. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

The Dolls joined the Gores (2009-10) and the Chicks (2011-2012) as back-to-back ToRD champs. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

There was an old-school vibe at the Bunker on Saturday night: a lively crowd, active mascots, and rising beeramids lined the track, while tutus and face-paint made their way back onto it, but the game itself was new-school flat track roller derby at its frenetic best. It was one of those fine balances unique to the sport; a dichotomy that only roller derby at its best is able to pull off. Fueled by this richness of narrative, the dueling opponents  rose up to meet expectations and delivered. When the smoke cleared and the dust settled, it was the Death Track Dolls who survived the duel, able to hold off the three-time champion Gore-Gore Rollergirls 184-139 to take home their second straight Toronto Roller Derby championship.

The defending champion Dolls came in focused and unified. (Photo by Greg Russell)

The defending champion Dolls came in focused and unified. (Photo by Greg Russell)

Coming off of a record-setting season capped by a record-setting Battle for the Boot mauling against the Betties in 2013, the defending-champion Dolls, rebuilt and not as fine-tuned or weapon-stacked as they were last year, relied on a different sort of chemistry to make it work in 2014. It was a challenge that could have understandably felled a lot of teams, but the combination of trust and positivity that fueled the 2014 Dolls was evident from the opening whistle of the 2014 Battle for the Boot.

Not to discredit the Gores, who themselves were dealing with a largely rebuilt roster and had to find a way to fuse multiple-generations of skaters into a cohesive unit. They succeeded, and rebounded in 2014 from their worst season ever in 2013 to return to their seventh championship game and, of course, in April became the first team from Toronto to win Montreal’s Beast of the East. And despite a near 100-point loss to them earlier this season, in this game they gave the Dolls all that they could handle.

Dolls' jammer Bellefast and Gores' Lexi Con were both excellent for their teams. (Photo by Greg Russell)

Dolls’ jammer Bellefast and Gores’ Lexi Con were both excellent for their teams. (Photo by Greg Russell)

The league’s leading scorer Bellefast got things started on the jam line for the Dolls, and it was clockwork for the defending champs as they lept out to a quick 4-0 lead. But the Gores roared back showing some offensive savvy in ringing off five straight lead jammer statuses (and seven of the first ten), but could manage only 9 points on the run to hold a slim 9-4 lead, a testament to the Dolls’ stifling defense and quick offense-defense transitions to free jammers and make sure any damage was limited. Early on the Gores were able to contain Dolls’ first-year jammers Devochka and Sleeper Hold, but had virtually no answer for veteran Bellefast.

Belle managed the third highest regular season lead percentage in ToRD history this year (77%) and kept the Dolls in the championship game early on as they got their offensive blocking going. She scored the first 25 points for the Dolls and had 67 at half on a 78% lead percentage in a dominating performance¹. While Devochka eventually managed to start putting up points midway through the first, it would take Sleeper seven jams to pick up lead and get on the board. Once the pack settled in though, all three jammers eventually got going (for example, Sleeper put up 16 points in the second half on 60% lead percentage, while Devo would finish the game with 49 points on 53%).

Gores' Chronic and Kandy Barr hold back Dolls' jammer Devochka. (Photo be Neil Gunner)

Gores’ Chronic and Kandy Barr hold back Dolls’ jammer Devochka. (Photo be Neil Gunner)

The game was incredibly tight early on, with the Dolls slipping ahead 33-25 at the midway point in the first period, and the game’s true highlight was the duel going on the pack. Skater for skater, the Gores arguably had the deeper pack, led by veterans Santa Muerte, Chronic, Gamma Rei, Emma Dilemma and the retiring league founder Kandy Barr, and the Gores did win many one-on-one battles, but as the game went on the Dolls’ walls tightened and what the team lacked in individual brilliance, they made up for in collective unity.

Mirroring the Gores’ opening run, the Dolls steered the game into half picking up eight of the final ten lead jammers and building the game’s largest lead—30 points—up 95-65 at the break.

It wasn’t that the Gores’ jammers weren’t having strong games: they were; it was just that they so rarely had an opportunity to make a pass without a Dolls jammer hot on their tails. Both Lexi Con and Lumberjack Flash finished the game with impressive lead percentages, 71% and 60% respectively, and Beaver Mansbridge made the most of her leads putting up 25 points on a 38% lead percentage (Taranosaurus Rex would have a similar high points-per-lead ratio, managing 18 points on only a 20%).

Dawson and Wheatabitch wrap up Gores' jammer Beaver Mansbridge. (Photo be Neil Gunner)

Dolls’ blockers Dawson and Wheatabitch wrap up Gores’ jammer Beaver Mansbridge. (Photo be Neil Gunner)

While the Dolls played with a hive-mind sensibility, they were anchored by strong performances from their key skaters and veterans. After a number of retirements and CN Power call ups last season there was a big on-track leadership void in the pack and long-time Doll Dawson stepped up in a big way this season, and was at her best in the championship game, anchoring a line alongside veteran co-captain Getcha Kicks and retiring long-time Doll Audrey Hellborn (who joined the jammer rotation late in the game and picked up, fittingly, the final lead of the half to close out the win).

Meanwhile the same sort of pressure was heaped on second-year skaters Android W.K. and Robotmy who were tasked with anchoring the other half of the pack and did well to live up to the challenge, aided in part by the presence of and ever-improving Hannibelle and another long-time Doll Slam Wow. Finally, yet another retiring league founder, Demolition Dawn, provided the foundational and emotional stability that was key to this team’s year-long success. And the Dolls needed this veteran poise in the second half as the Gores poured on wave after wave of energetic pushbacks, managing to get as close as 19 points after a 20-point Lexi Con jammed power jam midway through the half (Lexi managed to pick up lead on her first six jams of the second half in a fantastic, clutch performance).

A veteran Gores line of Emma Dilemma, Kandy Barr, Chronic and Santa Muerte talk with their bench during a time out. (photo by Greg Russell)

A veteran Gores line of Emma Dilemma, Kandy Barr, Chronic and Santa Muerte talk with their bench during a time out. (photo by Greg Russell)

The Gores too have a solid young core to build around. Full Deck is emerging as a strong pivot and potential triple-threat, while both Moose Knuckles and Viktory Lapp saved their best for the when it mattered most this season, showing that they can be called upon in big-game situations. There is a ton of depth on the Gores roster as well, from veterans Miss Kitty La Peur and Purple Pain to newcomers like Machu Beatchu and Guardian Paingel (who were both absent with injury).

Prior to the game, sixteen retiring skaters were singled out for their contributions to the league. It was a humbling list including many first-generation ToRD skaters including Betty Bomber, Candy Crossbones, Demolition Dawn, Dusty, Dyna Hurtcha, Hoff, Kandy Barr, and Rebel Rock-It. It leaves a gaping absence in the centre of the organization, but it is one that the league has the infrastructure to fill. As a whole, the league should take notice of the Dolls model of smart drafting: This year’s pick ups in Stringer Belle, Wheatabitch and Free Range Clam were model skaters for the Dolls, making up for any lack of experience by buying into the team model and playing within the established system.

They were integral pieces in the Dolls’ complete-game performance in the final, and the team went toe-to-toe with their opponents during the Gores’ final desperate push where they had the offense going but couldn’t fully shut down the Dolls in a 25-11 run over the final four jams. The Dolls remained focused and held on for the 45-point victory.

Despite the retirements and the feeling of finality to this championship game, ToRD as a whole has a chance to do the same sort of on-the-fly rebuild that the Dolls did, only on a larger scale. With a deep house league entry draft loaded with both homegrown and transfer talent coming up, and an internal development system strongly in place in place from fresh meat all the way up to CN Power, this entertaining and successful eighth championship game should be looked at as much as an augur of a successful future as it was a celebration of a strong history.

"The Boot" Photo by Neil Gunner (neilgunner.com)

The Betties led 135-55 at half in their win over the Striking Vikings. (Photo by Greg Russell)

The Betties led 135-55 at half in their win over the Striking Vikings. (Photo by Greg Russell)

***In the opener, the Smoke City Betties picked up a much-needed win over the Renegade Derby Dames’ travel team, the Striking Vikings, 237-167. After climbing all the way to the 2013 Battle for the Boot, the Betties stumbled this season, finishing last in ToRD and missing the playoffs. They played, arguably, their most complete game on the season on Saturday and beat a tough opponent that featured some talented skaters.

***The 2014 Battle for the Boot will be rebroadcast intermittently on Rogers TV beginning next Saturday. Check listings for air times and dates. Visit layer9.ca for track side video coverage.

¹These stats are all unofficial and will be updated for accuracy if necessary.

Battle for the Boot 8: Dolls vs. Gores

On Saturday night the Dolls and Gores meet in the Battle for the Boot for the first time in history. The defending champ Dolls will try to hold off the three-time champion Gores to successfully defend the Boot.

ToRD_Oct-18-2014-Poster-Ver2_RS_100214Before 2013’s year of Dollmination, the Death Track Dolls had defeated the Gore-Gore Rollergirls only once in the team’s history, a close, controversial decision in 2008. From 2009-2012, the Gores dominated the rivalry and won a few championships along the way, while the Dolls struggled through losing season after losing season. All of that changed in 2013 when an undefeated record and a record-setting Battle for the Boot victory ushered in the Dolls’ era in ToRD.

Despite a slew of retirements and CN Power call-ups after the championship run, that era continued unabated through the early months of this year’s regular season as well. For the second-straight year the Dolls finished atop the regular season standings with a perfect 3-0 record. On top of that, their 652 points was the second most ever scored in a ToRD regular season (just below their own 2013 record-setting clip). The Dolls even dominated the other playoff-bound teams, notching a 100-point win over the Gores and a smothering 272-35 mauling of the Chicks Ahoy!. Everything seemed to be coming up Doll in 2014.

However, you should never count out the Dynasty.

Things started slowly this season for the Gores, but not as direly as you might expect for a supposedly rebuilding team. They managed to wind up second in the regular season standings after knocking off last year’s finalists, the Smoke City Betties, in the last game of the regular season and looked very impressive in dispatching a scrappy Chicks team in the semifinal. But the biggest indicator of how far this Gores team has come may have been their performance at the Beast of the East at the end of spring. It was a thrilling, often grueling run, where they won games they had no right winning, dominated teams they had no right dominating, yet struggled and fought and never gave up on their way to the shocking tournament win. It showed, clearly, the depth of heart on this team; the kinds of intangibles that can win championships.

Read the recap of the ToRD house league regular season double header in March. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Read the recap of the Gores and Dolls regular season meeting, a 172-79 win for the Dolls. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

But if the Gores want to win the championship, they will have to contain the Dolls explosive offense; an offense that has put up nearly 1400 points over their last six regular season games. In the teams’ one meeting earlier this year, the Dolls threw everything that had at the Gores, with five different jammers scoring at least 17 points (four of them had at least 24). It is that varied offense that is so dangerous, but look for the Dolls to keep the jammer rotation tight: Bellefast (who led the league with 164 points and a 77% lead percentage); Sleeper Hold (98 and 59%); and Devochka (156 and 59%); with captain Android WK as relief. In the pack, the Dolls may be vulnerable, with some mid-season retirements having eroded their once menacing depth; it will be a comparatively inexperienced pack that goes to the track on Saturday led by veterans Android WK, Getcha Kicks, Audrey Hellborn, and Dawson, but supported by a new generation of skaters led by second-year Doll Robotomy.

But the Gores have come into their own in 2014. In the regular-season meeting between the two teams, Lexi Con was the mos successful Gore jammer against the Dolls defense—but the Gores have a rotation of jammers that has improved as the season has gone on. The Dolls managed to contain Lumberjack Flash in the regular season game, but she has since taken the league by storm, and was second on the Gores in scoring with 24 points in the semifinal win gains the Chicks (Lexi Con tore up the track with 86 points on a 69% lead percentage in that game). Double threat Beaver Mansbridge was also called into considerable action in the semifinal, but with Taranosaurus Rex back from injury, she may be able to slip back into the pack a little more. But despite the developing jammer rotation, the real depth of the Gores is in its pack. Led by veterans Santa Muerte, Chronic, and Kandy Barr, there is an increasingly intimidating bench alongside that core, beginning with veterans Gamma Rei and Miss Kitty La Peur and extending all the way to next-generation Gores like Moose Knuckles and Full Deck.

While both teams are suffering injuries to key pieces (including two up-and-coming blocking stars in Beast MVP Machu Beatchu and first-year Doll Block Quebecois, but extending even further into each roster), don’t expect anything less than a brawl on the track. The Dolls are looking to join the Chicks and the Gores as back-to-back titleists, while the Gores are looking to break a historic tie with the Chicks and win their unprecedented fourth ToRD championship.

Battle for the Boot 2014 by the Numbers

8

This is the 8th Battle for the Boot.

7

The number of times the Gores have battled for the Boot (followed by the Chicks [5], and the Dolls and Betties [2]).

3

The number of ToRD championships the Gores have won (the Chicks have also won 3; the Dolls 1.).

652

The amount of points the Dolls scored during the regular season.

498

The amount of points the Gores scored during the regular season.

187.5

The average point differential the Dolls had in victories against the Chicks and the Betties this season.

64

The average point differential the Gores had in victories against the Chicks and the Betties this season.

93

The amount the Dolls beat the Gores by when they met in March.

1

The number of skaters playing on each team Saturday night who were active during ToRD’s first season (the Dolls’ Demolition Dawn played for the Smoke City Betties, while Kandy Barr is the sole remaining skater from the Gores’ 2007 championship run).

***The championship game will be preceded by an exhibition match featuring the hometown Smoke City Betties hosting the Renegade Derby Dames’ Striking Vikings out of Alliston, Ontario. The Vikings are a WFTDA travel team and should provide a strong challenge to the Betties, who missed the ToRD playoffs in 2014 after Battling for the Boot last season.

***Doors open at 4:00 PM, with opening whistle of game 1 at 5:00 PM. The Battle for the Boot 2014 will begin at 7:00 PM. Tickets are available online.

Skull on Fire: Coping with Multiple Concussions in Roller Derby (Guest Post)

Guest blogger and retired skater Speedin’ Hawking discusses her history of concussions and provides resources on diagnoses, rehabilitation, and how to ease yourself back into play.

“When you feel like this looks”

“When you feel like this looks”

My 5-year derby-versary was approaching in only a few months. I was extremely excited to re-join our B travel team after a spot opened up, and brought that enthusiasm to my first practice back that night. Towards the end of practice we scrimmaged our A-team, as we often would. At one point when I was blocking, I got caught in a pick and took a clean hit in the chest. It caught me off guard and took me off my feet. My head flung backwards, and as I was falling, I am told that the back of my head made contact with another skater in motion who was behind me, thrusting it forward. My immediate reaction was a panic attack. I started hyperventilating and crying and was ultimately confused and really distraught. I quietly moved off the track to gain control of what I thought was just a weird emotional outburst, withdrew myself from the group and hid behind a pillar so as not to bring attention to my embarrassing reaction. I sat out for the few remaining minutes of the practice while our first responders and my loving derby wife checked me out and tried to put me at ease.

Speedin' Hawking pivots for the Bay Street Bruisers in a game against Royal City in October 2012. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

The author, Speedin’ Hawking, pivots for the Bay Street Bruisers in a game against Royal City in October 2012. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

I didn’t lose consciousness or forget my name, but I didn’t know exactly what had happened or how. I was really confused, and that is unusual for me as a fairly aware skater. I felt like I got my bell rung and immediately felt ‘out of it’. I drove myself home alone, which was a challenge in itself, as the road looked like that  drunk driving commercial from the 80s. Bad idea.

If this was a concussion, it would have been my fourth in a year and a half. Given that I am a shorter skater at 5’2″, it’s not a surprise that half of these were due to being hit in the chin or jaw and made worse with the whiplash that came with it. The other half are because I am a bit of a spaz in my day-to-day life. I wish I could tell you it’s from being bad-ass.

Needless to say I took some time to stay off skates, and since have had to pack it in for roller derby. As sad as this is, I have found that since I have become a vet at this concussion thing lately, and more and more leaguemates of mine have been asking about it: What does it feel like? What can you do about it? Who do you go see? Should I get a hockey helmet? Face shield? You too??!! And so on. Or sharing quietly that they think they have one and ask what they should do.

I am not sure if you have noticed in your leagues, but I have never seen so many people off skates at the same time due to this injury. We have become fitter, better, more agile, faster and more aggressive skaters. We are weapons on wheels. We are making fancier moves on our skates. Our style of play has evolved to be more scrum-like. Our rules have recently changed to allow some clockwise movement. I am not sure if all these things are linked, but they can’t be ignored either. If this is the way things are going, then let’s look after our brains cause we only get one (at least for now: c’mon science, where are you on this one?).

I also sucked up precious screen time searching the Internet for answers as to how I was feeling, what’s normal, and what I should do as a coping mechanism to counter the fear and anxiety I was experiencing. Now that I am mostly symptom-free 5 months later (hurray!) I thought I would compile some resources as well as share my learning from a derby perspective. This way, they are on-hand for others with symptoms who might be new to this or for teammates, captains and coaches to refer to in case of future injuries. Thanks to others who have gone through this too who shared their tips and resources with me.

I am not a doctor, or a professional healthcare provider, just a gal who has been searching for more and more answers on the Internet every time she bonks her face in roller derby.

If you think you or your buddy might have suffered a concussion, please visit a physician (sports or specialist if you can rather than a walk-in clinic or even your family doctor. Get checked out as soon as you can. Even if you think it’s no big deal and you feel mostly fine. Even if you only feel “just a bit off”. It’s very easy to talk yourself out of your injury, especially if you have a game coming up, or are super busy in life, so you really need others close to you to call you on your bullshit.

Following is a summary of things you might be wondering about concussions along with some handy references.

WHAT IS A CONCUSSION?

Your skull is your body’s built-in helmet. Your brain sits in your skull suspended in fluid. When you get rocked by a hit, your brain bounces around inside your skull, which can result in “bruising.” This could be because you fell and hit your head, but can also occur by being jostled or shaken.

Watch this! Science!

Also watch this: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Concussions

Also read:

What Happens to the Brain During a Concussion” from Scientific American

What a Bump to the Head Looks Like Inside Your Brain” from PBS.

WHIPLASH AND CONCUSSION-LIKE SYMPTOMS

Found to be highly related to concussions, whiplash can produce similar symptoms. Sometimes the tension or alignment in the neck that results can cause a pinching in your spine, which can have the same weird neurological effects as a concussion.

Read:

Whiplash: 5 Things You Should Know” from spineuniverse.com

POSSIBLE CAUSES OF CONCUSSION

I am sure you are creative and can find more ways but here are some common ones:

- impact to the head from a hit or a fall

- impact to the face or jaw causing the head and neck to jostle and may include whiplash

- impact to the body causing the head and neck to jostle and may include whiplash

Read the Mayo Clinic’s list of basic causes here.

DIAGNOSIS AND TESTING

On-Track:

Ensure that your first-responders or coaches and managers in your league have been trained to screen and assess if a concussion may have occurred or can help with triaging the injury. Review WFTDA Safety Protocol Section 6 carefully as well as Appendix C-D for concussion info.

The SCAT (Sport Concussion Assessment Tool) is quite commonly used. The current version is SCAT3: Sport Concussion Assessment Tool

Here’s an offline sheet that you can keep a few copies of near the track or in your bags:  Sport Concussion Assessment Tool PDF

The CDC also offers this palm card that walks through the assessment: Palm card assessment

And, of course there’s an app for that! Here’s a great breakdown of the popular concussion apps.

Post-Concussion:

You might end up getting a CT Scan or in bad cases an MRI to be sure there’s no head trauma or blood clotting, but because it’s really hard to “see” bruising on your brain, there is really no conclusive way at this time to see how bad your concussion is. You break a bone, you get an x-ray and can see it. We don’t have that kind of thing yet for concussions.
So the best you can do is monitor your symptoms which is why it’s super important to see a doctor and talk this out with them. Bonus points if they have a specialty or are a sports physician who deals with this a lot.

There are tests that rely on testing your neurological responses, cognition and balance, but their accuracy is debated and there aren’t any broadly accepted tools at this time for diagnosis. A couple of them are:

As for finding a physician, many in our league here in Toronto have visited the David L. MacIntosh Sport Medicine Clinic at the University of Toronto for help

Also check out:

The clinic you visit already for physio for your myriad of other derby injuries might also have someone there with a specialty in treating sports concussions.


SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

Here is a list of common symptoms. This is your best way to track your progress, so really try to monitor how you feel. Write it down every day even. You might start seeing patterns emerge after certain stimulus. For example, during a regular work day post-concussion, it was normal for me to get a pressure headache between 3 and 4 pm due to computer usage and thinking so darn hard. I knew I was getting better when that would start to go away.

Think of it as a “buffet” of options, or a “portfolio”. You might not feel all of them at any given time, but even feeling one of them counts. Don’t tell yourself that you don’t have a concussion if you feel a bunch of these but then don’t feel nauseous, for example. A good sign is thinking that something is out of the ordinary for you. Also, you aren’t better until your symptoms go away completely.

If you decide to take anything to treat these symptoms (like ibuprofen or anti-nauseants), just be aware that you could be masking your symptoms which is your only reliable way to measure progress in your rehab.

  1. Headache
  2. Pressure in head
  3. Neck Pain
  4. Nausea or Vomiting
  5. Dizziness
  6. Blurred vision
  7. Balance problems
  8. Light sensitivity
  9. Noise Sensitivity
  10. Feeling slowed down
  11. Feeling “in a fog”
  12. “Don’t feel right”
  13. Difficulty concentrating
  14. Difficulty remembering
  15. Fatigue or low energy
  16. Confusion
  17. Drowsiness
  18. Trouble falling asleep
  19. More emotional
  20. Irritability
  21. Sadness
  22. Nervousness or anxiousness

Read more:

Concussion Signs and Symptoms” from momsteam.com

Concussion Signs and Symptoms” from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

POST-CONCUSSIVE DISORDER

This is actually a thing! You are not on crazy pills! You may have rolled away from a practice or game feeling alright after a hit, but then start feeling the effects later or a month later. Post-concussive disorder symptoms skew more on the psycho-behavioural side of things rather than physiological. So if you are seeing behavioural or emotional changes in yourself, this could be why. Like feeling extra “hulk-smash-y” or like you are PMS’ing, or like your old anxiety challenges have been triggered again. Try not to get too paranoid about it and go see a doctor to put you at ease and work on next steps to rehab.

REHABILITATION

Rest. That’s it. Cognitive and physical rest. Nothing fancy. Unfortunately this often means laying down and doing nothing, no brain stimulation. This includes abstaining from watching videos, listening to music, reading, writing, audiobooks. Stay off your smart phone! It’s like your body is now grounded as punishment for doing something dumb to your brain.  You might be sensitive to light and certain frequencies of sound, so hang out in a dim and / or quiet room. Earplugs and sunglasses become your best friends.

ETY Plugs by Etymotics have been the best ever, I take them everywhere with me.

Work with your physician to determine a plan for what’s best for you as far as timing, rest and return to activities and exercise. Determine if you have to take a leave from work or school, and if there is any disability support in place to assist you with keeping up. If you are typically a busy-body, then you might need someone to explicitly tell you how to rest.

Stay away from practice. Watching your teammates skate fast around and around while whistles go off can be overstimulating. As much as you might want to participate off-skates and be with your team, this environment does not help with your rehab. Hopefully your coaches and teammates understand.

Supplements: Unlike taking something to treat your symptoms, your doctor might prescribe supplements that promote brain healing and cognitive improvement. This might include:

  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) – promotes the production of energy in the brain’s blood vessels (1)
  • Magnesium – improves synaptic plasticity, aids memory and learning (2)
  • Vinpocetine – enhances cerebral blood flow and neuroprotective effects (3)
  • DHA Omega-3 or Fish oil – brain development (4)
  1.  Vitamin B22 (From howstuffworks.com)
  2. “Magnesium Boosts Brain Function” from wellnessresources.com
  3. Vinpocetine (Wikipedia)
  4. Docosahexaenoic Acid (Wikipedia)

Physio / massage: Your treatment plan from your doctor might also include cranial massage or acupuncture to help with the pressure release and stimulate circulation to the brain to aid the healing process. I have had cranial massages, skull pecking, acupuncture in my head and even a deep neck flexor massage for whiplash. I have also been prescribed neck strengthening exercises as part of my physio.

Your treatment plan might even include some low-impact exercise to help increase blood flow to your brain. I found it also helps get those feel-good endorphins going to counter those downer feelings you might be experiencing.


RETURN TO PLAY

This is going to take time, and like all injuries, rushing back will only harm you in the long run. You want to be sure that you are fully recovered before trying to skate again in order to avoid aggravation or re-injury. Since multiple concussions have a cumulative effect, you don’t want to experience another, and especially not right away. It will set you back exponentially and can leave you with lingering or long-term effects.

Most concussion guidelines for sports have a pretty explicit return to play outline, however, ensure that your doctor clears you to skate initially (your sport is skating around and around for hours!) and then again to resume contact.

Here are a few good ones:

Captains and managers should also treat this injury as they would any other player injury. Depending on your league policies, a doctors note would be ideal. Know the steps:

  1. No activity, complete rest
  2. Light aerobic exercise
  3. Sport-specific activities – like skating
  4. Drills, no contact
  5. Drills with contact
  6. Game play

Take it step by step.

Start with light, low impact activity, like biking, walking or swimming, and move through the levels only if you are completely symptom-free. Not even a little headache. If you do feel your symptoms as a result, you need to continue your rest and rehab. Then try again at that level. This can sometimes be a slow, frustrating process.

There are also newer studies that suggest some exercise might also accelerate your progress. Best to just monitor how you are feeling. Try and see what might work for you and how you feel.

If you have suffered from multiples or even a single major event, know when it’s time to pack it in. Look at your risks vs rewards if you are considering returning, and consider how to avoid long-term damage (Decrease competitiveness? Try low contact? Take a couple of years off?)

As much as we are in love with our sport and the derby community, you only get one brain.

PREVENTION

Like my catholic upbringing taught me, the surefire way to avoid accidents is abstinence from engagement in risky activities. But really, we can’t skate around in a safety bubble like in bubble sports, can we? No really, can we??!!!

We play a contact sport that celebrates our athletes’ differences in size and shape, and we would hate to see that change. We have complete understanding that sometimes accidents just happen in contact sports.

Here are some ideas, however, that could help avoid first or future concussions in roller derby, or at least reduce the frequency we are seeing. It would also be wonderful if the ruleset was evaluated for safety by medical professionals and revised accordingly in addition to considering changes related to improvement of game play and spectator experience.

  • Helmets and face shields: Helmets can be great for helping absorb impact when hit, and protect your skull, but can’t help as much when you get a shot in the face or whiplash. At least, start with a legit multi-impact helmet for real! With the hard foam. Take that rubberized helmet you bought and throw it in the garbage. Don’t let your fresh meat buy them when they are investing in gear at the beginning. Check out section 9.1.3 of the rules to find out what equipment variations pass. Just like all of your other gear try options on, or borrow from your pals till you find the proper fit. Acknowledge that your head shape just might not fit properly with certain models. Look for a balance of protection and functionality (lightweight, not too hot, etc.) Some might find that hockey-style helmets stabilize the jarring and head and neck a bit more. Some find that face shields help prevent face hits. There are many options, just don’t cheap out on this body part when it comes to protection.
  • Practice backwards blocking as a skill: This is a newer blocking style that is becoming more prominent in game play, however not one commonly taught as a foundation in fresh meat programs. Practice greater control when transitioning quickly. Practice more upper body blocking techniques, giving and receiving, with the aim of avoiding flailing limbs or head/face hits. Especially try safely backwards blocking and side blocking or “picking” with a variety of different-sized opponents.
  • Strengthen your neck and upper body: Roller derby is definitely a total body sport, so don’t forget these body parts in your dry land training. Now that there is much more backwards blocking and shoulder blocking, strengthen this part of your body so that you can safely absorb and deliver these upper body hits. For blockers, this may also help dealing with that transfer of momentum from jammers coming in hot to a slow or stopped pack.
  • Call out head and face hits: For coaches and managers, try to pay attention to these hits as much as you would cutting and back blocking if refs aren’t at practice to call the high blocks. I feel like we let this one slide a lot because “it just happens”, meanwhile, we might be enforcing sloppy play and letting repeated hits to the face or head happen, which over time could increase susceptibility if a bigger hit is received. Remember that this injury is cumulative. Pull or bench any players for egregious play for sure.

TALK ABOUT IT

Finally, talk this out with others in your league or reach out to our amazingly supportive sports community. As horrible as it was that a number of us got injured at the same time in our league, we’ve become a great little support group for each other. It has also helped raise awareness about the injury in our league. There’s a great deal of comfort in knowing that you have leaguemates concerned for your well-being that have experienced the same symptoms and are going through rehab with you, especially in dealing with the psycho behavioural effects. We have also shared a great deal of knowledge and referred others to the right doctors, as well as have some ideas for future projects in this area, so stay tuned!

We play an adrenaline-driven sport that on top of it all, we put our hearts into organizing, building, running and progressing. This can make it extra challenging to pull back when the time comes, whether it’s taking a short break or a long one.

There’s a great documentary called The Crash Reel that helps puts things into perspective and does a great job illustrating how passion for our sport can take over. Thanks Kamikaze Kitten for the recommendation and for being just a random Facebook message away!

Watch Trailer: The Crash Reel

Save your brain, you may need it later.

And if you are currently rehabbing a concussion, thanks for using up some of your screen time here.

Feel free to keep the conversation going here in the comments section, or by sharing your resources and experiences too!

Guest Blogger Speedin’ Hawking skated with Toronto Roller Derby from 2009 to 2014 as a member of the Death Track Dolls (2013 co-captain) and the Bay Street Bruisers B-level travel team (‎2012-2013).
Speedin Hawking blocking in a preseason game against Tri-City's Venus Fly Tramps before her 2010 rookie season with ToRD. (Photo by Chrissie Woo)

Speedin Hawking blocking in a preseason game against Tri-City’s Venus Fly Tramps before her 2010 rookie season with ToRD. (Photo by Chrissie Woo)

***Would you like to be a guest blogger?? Contact the Derby Nerd with questions, proposals, or recommendations at thederbynerd@gmail.com***

Gores to Battle for the Boot After Semi-Final Win

The Gore-Gore Rollergirls held off Chicks Ahoy! in a highly competitive semi-final showdown, while the D-VAS impressed against South Simcoe in their final performance before the 2015 entry draft.

This was the sixth playoff meeting between the Chicks and the Gores, but the first time they have faced off in the semi-final instead of the final. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

This was the sixth playoff meeting between the Chicks and the Gores, but the first time they have faced off in the semi-final instead of the final. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

The “Dynasty” has completed one more step on its quest to return to the top. After reaching 6 consecutive ToRD championships from 2007-2012, the Gore-Gore Rollergirls were stunned in last year’s semi-finals by the Smoke City Betties leaving them and their co-perennial power house leaguemates Chicks Ahoy! out of the championship game for the first time ever. It would be a league turn around that would not last long, as both are clearly back in the mix. The Gores booked their ticket to the Battle for the Boot with a tight, entertaining 152-97 victory over the Chicks on Saturday at the Bunker.

There was an old-school feel to the game brought on not only by the two teams’ long history together, but also by the fast-paced, grinding style of play they brought to the track. The Gores got off to a light advantage from the start, but were unable to pull away in the early going, never leading by more than 20-30 points. They were getting a strong game from their core of reliable veterans led by Santa Muerta, Chronic, and Kandy Barr, who were incredibly physical and, at least in the early going, never let the Chicks get into any sort of rhythm.

Chicks jammer Roadside BombShel made her return to the roster after a long injury lay off. (Photo by Greg Russell)

Chicks jammer Roadside BombShel made her return to the roster after a long injury layoff. (Photo by Greg Russell)

The Chicks, however, looked strong as well, and seem well passed the brief drop to the bottom of the league that they endured last season. Led by their own core of blocker veterans (notably Rosemary’s Rabies, Biggley Smallz, Robber Blind and Emraged), the Chicks played a simple, old school, fast-pack defense to offset the lead-jammer advantage that the Gores had early on and it kept the score close. They played with a spark and intensity that was perhaps tied to the emotional return of jammer Roadside BombShel (who missed a season and a half recovering from injury): the scrappy jammer picked up right where she left off playing a more jukey style of game that was able to separate some of the Gore walls.

Both teams were suffering from injuries to key skaters and relied on call-ups from the D-VAS to bolster their jammer rotations; the Chicks call-up (and recent league transfer) Smoka Cola was simply extraordinary in the game, and in particular in the opening half, leading her temporary team in scoring (20 points) and the game in lead percentage (71%) through the first 30, looking incredibly comfortable on the track with exquisite footwork and powerful acceleration.

Gores jammer Lexi Con (evading a hit from Joss Wheelin) led the game in scoring with 91 points, including 59 in the opening half. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Gores jammer Lexi Con (evading a hit from Joss Wheelin) led the game in scoring with 91 points, including 59 in the opening half. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

2013 league leading scorer Lexi Con, saw her chances to repeat as scoring champion fade away when a late season injury kept her out of the Gores’ lineup; however, she looks none the worse for wear, and has arguably returned from injury even stronger. It was a late first half power jam skated by Lexi (and adding to her game-leading total of 91 points, of which 59 came in the first) that allowed the Gores to add a bit of a cushion at the break as the Chicks had roared back. Suddenly a 30-point deficit bad been stretched to 50, with the Gores leading 93-43 at half.

One thing that has changed about this Chicks Ahoy! team from their rough 2013 rebuild to now is their resiliency: whenever it seemed as if they were done in this game, they found that internal strength and motivation to fight back and stay in it. It was the quality that put them over the edge in a thrilling regular season win over the Betties and that was what kept them in this one when it threatened to get away from them.

The Gores picked up the second half right where they left off in the first, going on a 26-4 run to increase their lead to 119-47. The Gores’ depth shined through in the second as well as Purple Pain and Miss Kitty La Peur played some of their strongest derby of the season, with Purple locking down the front of the pack and Kitty often playing from the back.

The Gores' Chronic, Santa Muerte and Purple Pain work to contain Hyena Koffinkat. (Photo by Greg Russell)

The Gores’ Chronic, Santa Muerte and Purple Pain work to contain Hyena Koffinkat. (Photo by Greg Russell)

But the Chicks just wouldn’t go away. Hyena Koffinkat brought her now expected intensity to the game and was a force particularly in the second half, often going toe-to-toe with (arguably) the only jammer in the league who could match her in on-track intensity: Lumberjack Flash; but after being contained for much of the first half, Hyena broke free in the second. This, coupled with a heads up half-time decision to flip the roles of R2 Smack You and Heavy Knitter (from pivot to jammer and vice versa), had the Chicks come storming back in the second, going on a 27-2 ten minute run of their own to pull back within reach, down 126-74 at the midway point of the second.

And the Chicks just kept coming, pouring it on until the end, with the Gores frantically able to hold on, getting incredibly strong jamming late from Beaver Mansbridge, who played with the star more than at any other time in her ToRD career thus far. When it was all said and done, despite getting stronger as the game went on, the Chicks simply ran out of time , and the Gores own tenaciousness allowed them to seal the deal and book their ticket back to the Battle for the Boot with the 55-point victory.

**The Gores will face off against defending champion Death Track Dolls in the 2014 ToRD Championship on October 18. Tickets are on sale now.

D-VAS 213 vs. South Simcoe 172

The least experienced members of these two teams squared off at Fresh and Furious 2014 in July with the D-VAS winning narrowly. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

The least-experienced members of these two teams squared off at Fresh and Furious 2014 in July with the D-VAS winning narrowly. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

In the opening game of the double header, the D-VAS ended their 2014 on a high note with a big win against a scrappy team in the South Simcoe Rebel Rollers to improve their season record to 5-2 (not including a third place finish at this year’s Fresh and Furious tournament) and leave an excellent impression ahead of this year’s entry draft.

The teams were virtually deadlocked early on, with only D-VAS’ power jams keeping the home team ahead (including an incredible 27 point jam from top prospect Smoka Cola), up only slightly, 59-43 at the midway point, the D-VAS opened things up a bit at half, up 119-74. South Simcoe was led in the pack by captain Mis Terplow, Painkiller Jane, Luna-Zee (who eventually fouled out) and Suzy Scalp-Her, with Crash Brownie coming on strong late. South Simcoe was liberal with their jammer rotation early on, before locking in the trio of Amazon, Axe Attack and Brand Her (all of whom had successes at one point or another during the game).

Battering Ma'am, pivoting for the D-VAS, had a strong night at all three positions. (Photo by Greg Russell)

Battering Ma’am, pivoting for the D-VAS, had a strong night at all three positions. (Photo by Greg Russell)

There were three separate occasions where a South Simcoe jammer picked up multiple penalties on the same jam, and this was certainly the difference in the end as the D-VAS led the whole way during the second half , but were never able to pull away, instead holding on in the end for the 41-point win.

There were a variety of D-VAS standouts in this final game before the entry draft, with Vag Lightning standing out in the pack and Smoka Cola dominating at times with the star, while Battering Ma’am was all over the track in a strong triple-threat performance. But all season there have been a variety of players who have stepped up for the D-VAS making draft-day decisions all that much harder.

**Both games were filmed by Rogers TV. Stay tuned to local listings for re-airing dates and times.

Chicks Gores Set for Semi-Final Showdown. D-VAS host South Simcoe.

After a summer hiatus, Toronto Roller Derby returns with a semi-final showdown between the Gore-Gore Rollergirls and Chicks Ahoy! A matchup between ToRD’s D-VAS and South Simcoe will kick off the double header at the Bunker.

2014 ToRD Semi-final PosterThe Gore-Gore Rollergirls (2-1) and Chicks Ahoy! (1-2) share a long playoff history. They competed for back-to-back Boots in ToRD’s first two seasons and met in three-straight finals from 2010-2012. They share the record of three titles, accounting for six of the first seven ToRD championships. But on Saturday at the Bunker, they will write a new, as of yet unprecedented chapter in their significant history: for the first time ever, the Chicks and Gores will face off in the ToRD semi-final.

After reluctantly handing over the reigns of power to their leaguemates the Smoke City Betties and Death Track Dolls (who last year met in the final for the first time), one of either the Chicks or the Gores will have a chance to get back to the top of the ToRD pyramid. Coming into this season, the Chicks took the fall harder than the Gores did, dropping all the way to the bottom of the regular season standings and missing the playoffs for the first time ever in 2013.

2014 has seen both teams surge past the stumbling Betties to get back into the playoffs, but it was the Gores who took out the Chicks in the season opener way back in January with a 218-157 win. The win secured them second place in the regular season standings.

Read the recap of the Gores and Chicks regular season meeting. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Read the recap of the Gores and Chicks regular season meeting. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

But it’s hard to tell how relevant those early results are as the league took a summer hiatus after its regular season concluded in early June, leaving the home teams dormant while the travel teams put in some time on the road (and returning to the Bunker a few weeks ago as well). As it were, the Gores surged as the season went on, while the Chicks held steady, eking out a win over the Betties in March before getting completely overwhelmed by the Dolls who managed to hold the Chicks to only 35 points—the team’s lowest point total ever.

However, both teams are also built around comparatively inexperienced players who had also been evolving as the season went on, with a handful from each roster playing for the Bay Street Bruisers as well; with that in mind, there is no telling how far they have come and what kind of impact on the game they could have.

Read the recap of the ToRD house league regular season double header in March. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Read the recap of the ToRD house league regular season double header in March. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

The Chicks welcomed virtually a completely rebuilt jammer rotation in 2014. Second-year Chicks Chevy Chase-Her and Heavy Knitter provided as much of a veteran presence as possible, but experienced transfers Hyena Koffinkat and Sneaky Dee led the way in scoring with 71 and 147 points respectively. Actually, Sneaky Dee put together one of the best seasons in the league in 2014. Finishing 4th in scoring (but first in points per jam with 6.4), second in lead percentage (65%), she eventually tied for third overall with a 34 Jammer Quotient (JQ) Rating.

The Gores also welcomed new jammers in transfers Guardian Paingel and Lumberjack Flash. Flash had an immediate impact in the league and in her first year in ToRD finished third in the league in scoring with 153 points (on 3.3 PPJ), tied for third with a 61% lead percentage, and tied for third overall in total JQ. This picked up some of the slack for an injured Lexi Con. Lexi finished atop the JQ standings in 2013 and was well on her way to another dominant season before missing the final game with an injury. Nonetheless she managed 4.89 points per jam and a 56% lead percentage before her injury. Taranosaurus Rex, who joined Lexi and Flash by scoring over 100 points (112), finished with a 49% lead percentage.

Read about the stats and the ToRD standings here.

Both teams rely on more veteran presences in the pack. Marmighty, Hoff and Rebel Rock-It returned to the Chicks roster this season and along with Biggley Smallz, Robber Blind, Emraged, Rosemary’s Rabies and Tess D’Urb Evil have a solid core at the heart of the team. The Gores are similarly experienced in the pack, led by Santa Muerte, Chronic and Kandy Barr, we’ve seen the likes of Emma Dilemma, Full Deck and transfer Machu Beatchu step up into big roles this season. Double threats like Beaver Mansbridge also give the team options on offense.

The Double Header will kick off with a showdown between ToRD’s D-VAS and the South Simcoe Rebel Rollers. The D-VAS are 4-2 on the season, and this represents one of their final opportunities to leave a public impression before the 2015 house league entry draft.

Doors at the Bunker open at 4, with the opening whistle on the D-VAS game scheduled for 5:00 PM. The semi-final is schedule for 7:00 PM. Tickets will be available at the door, but are available online as well.