If you want to examine the health of flat track roller derby in Canada, you’d do no better than to look at the events from this past weekend. While some of the best young skaters in Ontario, Montreal and Buffalo were dueling on the GTA Rollergirls’ tracks in Toronto, the best of the Atlantic provinces (with guests from Quebec City and Maine Roller Derby as well) were converging on Moncton for Muddy River’s second annual Atlantic Jamboree. Roller Derby Quebec’s Duchesses, who should be no strangers to eastern Canadian derby fans after two appearances in the Beast of the East, finally offered a challenge to Muddy River’s dominance on the east coast, going 3-1 including splitting games with Muddy River’s Reines of Terror (who also finished at 3-1). Halifax and Red Rock N Roller Derby from Charlottetown, PEI, also had strong showings, and overall provided an excellent display of the rapid growth of derby on the coast. At the highest level in the Atlantic Provinces, teams are employing much more complex strategies at a much earlier stage. Something seen all over the Fresh and the Furious tournament in Toronto.
Since 2009, when flat track roller derby finally “found itself,” the major differentiation between new leagues and teams and the established ones was the use of complex strategies, particularly those dealing with pack definition and pace. At last year’s 2Fresh 2Furious, the winners, the Gold Miner’s Daughters, were essentially the best skaters in the tournament (or had the best skaters on their roster) and were able to “hit and run” their way through the competition to win the tournament. In 2012, at the Fresh and the Furious: GTA Drift, strategy would trump speed, agility would overcome power: evidence that there has been a definite shift in preparation for flat track teams.
Tournament co founder My-call Bublè cites that as the biggest change in this tournament since its inception as the Virgin Suicides Brawl in 2008 and even since last year’s 2Fresh 2Furious. “People are training with strategy now, instead of (learning to skate and) figuring it out later,” he said in an interview between games late in the tournament. “Most of the teams this year would beat most of the teams from last year,” he said confidently. “The level of derby has been brought up a lot from last year.”
Royal City’s Top Herloins’ coach Professor Wrex echoed My-call Bublè’s sentiments exactly. “The top four teams this year would definitely beat the top four teams from last year. Their skating ability is on par but their teamwork is better and their strategic work within the game is heightened.” And it was obvious that something on the track had taken a dramatic turn. While at last year’s tournament skaters seemed like they were just getting their skating legs, this year they seemed like they were getting their derby legs.
Like the annual Jamboree in Moncton, this tournament has quickly become an important step in the growth of the sport in this part of the country. “It brings something to derby that derby needs,” said My-Call Bublè, noting that new leagues like Lindsay and Woodstock get to play new skaters from established leagues like Montreal. “It’s an opportunity that you just don’t get (anywhere else).”
While there may be a disparity in the experience between the leagues, all of the teams are comprised of new, “fresh” skaters many of whom are playing their first games ever. So despite the fact that more established leagues like Montreal, Royal City and ToRD made it to the final four, everyone involved is aware that anything can happen. “I just wanted our team to have a good time and learn from some of the leagues coming to this tournament,” said Professor Wrex. “I didn’t know what to expect because you never know where the next best skater is going to be coming out of, (but) I’m glad to see we still have good fresh meat and good training in our league, (and) I’m super happy with everything they’ve done.”
His opposing coach in the championship game, The Rev, seconded that. “Our expectations were low. We just wanted to have fun. This was the first time that a lot of the girls have had a chance to go out and skate against other people who aren’t in the league. It’s an opportunity to go out and test the waters.” Also the coach of Montreal’s WFTDA team, the New Skids on the Block, The Rev has a vested interest in the growth of the newest skaters in the league, and he seemed more than pleased with the way things turned out: “I’d say the future of Montreal roller derby has a good base in this Smash Squad.”
And with tournaments like the Fresh and Furious and the Atlantic Jamboree popping up, eastern Canadian Roller Derby seems to have a good base as well.