Toronto Junior Roller Derby

While the All Stars are Away, the Young Stars Will Play

ToRD’s “young stars”, the D-VAS, and Toronto Junior Roller Derby hosted a double header as their big sisters on CN Power and the Bay Street Bruisers hit the road.

Montreal and Toronto's junior teams played a 9-point game one year ago. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Montreal and Toronto’s junior teams played a 9-point game one year ago. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

This weekend was a big one for Toronto Roller Derby; with its two travel teams on the road, each facing two tough matchups, the D-VAS, the house league farm team (AKA: the “future stars” travel team), held down the fort, hosting a double header with ToRD’s JRDA affiliate Toronto Junior Roller Derby. In terms of wins/losses it was a tough weekend for the city, its teams going a combined 1-5, but even within the losses there were some bright spots and solid results.

First off, on the home front, there was a rare D-VAS/Toronto Junior Roller Derby double header at The Bunker featuring guests from Lindsay (Lindsay Roller Derby) in the senior game and Montreal in the junior game. TJRD kicked things off against Rhythm and Bruise, their Montreal counterparts. This was a rematch of an incredibly close game (226-217) won by Montreal in Montreal almost exactly a year ago.

It has been astonishing watching the development of junior roller derby over the past four years: from awkward, un-strategic lap-skating to full on, hard fought strategically smart derby, the junior programs across the country have grown in leaps in bounds in a very short period of time. And it’s not only in our country; the Junior Roller Derby Association (JRDA) has become incredibly organized, to the point where there are sanctioning procedures and this year will introduce regional playoffs along with the increasing popular JuniorCon. Both Montreal and Toronto are Level 2 members of the JRDA, and play a slightly modified WFTDA rule set.

Montreal's El Skeletto tries to get through a Toronto two-wall of Awesome Sauce and Haylstorm. (Photo by Greg Russell)

Montreal’s Blue Zebra tries to get through a Toronto two-wall of Awesome Sauce and Haylstorm. (Photo by Greg Russell)

Given the level of intensity and the quality of the contact, for fans of flat track roller derby, there is little difference between the senior and junior games at this level. Things started out tight between both teams with Montreal using some power jams to pad a bit of a lead at half, up 109-48. Penalty troubles would continue to be the story in the second as pack and jammer penalties for Toronto allowed Montreal to maintain the distance; indeed, they managed to hold a 50-point for much of the half (it was 150-100 with 12 minutes left to play) before Montreal put it away in the end, pulling away for the 217-114 win.

There were phenomenal moments from each team, and strong play from skaters from both sides. Montreal’s attack was led by some strong jamming from El Skeletto, who jammed a few of those second-half power jams putting a ton of points on the board. Bess Kind was a presence on both sides of the jammer line, having a strong game as both a pivot and jammer. For Toronto, Skate of Emergency (who’s also jammed in the past) was excellent in the pack, locking in some strong one-on-one defence. Art Attack-Her continues to develop as a jammer, but Toronto’s roster seems to be defined by its double threats, with Awesome Sauce, Haylstorm, FBI and captain Mizz CrushHer looking comfortable both in the pack and with the star.

The D-VAS hosted Lindsay in their second home game of the season. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

The D-VAS hosted Lindsay in their second home game of the season. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

The D-VAS, featuring ToRD’s 2015 draft-eligible skaters, played in its third game of the season, coming off of a home win against Durham’s DRRDy Farmers (252-110) and a road loss to the surging Fergus Feims (168-276). They faced off against a tough Lindsay team.

Lindsay Roller Derby is an interesting league, part of the seemingly roster-rotating group of leagues that includes Northumberland Roller Derby, Peterborough, and Durham Region: All of this intermingling and co-training has led to the development of some excellent skaters and has a given a level of consistency to these leagues that may otherwise have been lacking. On Saturday, Lindsay was led by a core of skaters with significant experience playing for Durham Region (12 Gage, Psycho Magnet, and String Blade are all Atom Smashers, while Crazy Momma plays for the Farmers). While these skaters all stood out significantly in the pack, there is some excellent homegrown talent as well, including the hard-hitting Juniper Hill and the relentless Jensational in the pack. But the secret weapons of the squad could be its jammer rotation, built around the athletic Jennerator and the wily UnAlish’D, both excellent jammers who carved up the D-VAS’ packs all night.

The D-VAS themselves are starting to round into form. With months left before the next entry draft, there is a still a lot of time for skaters to step up and make an argument for themselves, but right now there are a few key skaters on the team. In the pack, Juggernaut J and April Cruel continue to lead the way: Juggernaut with her controlled positional play and April with her relentless blocking (the former ref has all of the fearlessness and the instincts for the game [she’s already providing timely offense] and just needs to gain some control from a skating fundamentals point of view). Before suffering an injury, Knoccer Mom was also having a strong game, while Durham transfer Slamureye’s previous experience is showing with her on-track leadership. The D-VAS are also showing some depth from the jammers as well, with former ref Lace Frehley skating an excellent game, joining the increasingly reliable Battering Ma’am and the quick and agile Murdercat as leaders of the offense.

D-VAS blocker Juggernaut J attempts to slow Lindsay jammer UnAlish'D. (Photo by Greg Russell)

D-VAS blocker Juggernaut J attempts to slow Lindsay jammer UnAlish’D. (Photo by Greg Russell)

The experience of Lindsay showed in the early going as they quickly built a small but stable lead. It was actually a tight defensive game (the score was 49-16 with ten left in the first) with Lindsay holding a 72-30 lead at half. It was much the same in the second with both teams managing to up the offensive production. Lindsay held on for the 169-96 win.

While the future was on full display in Toronto, ToRD’s present was on the road for two important games. On Saturday in Pittsburgh, The Bay Street Bruisers continued their B-level dominance with a one-sided win over the Steel Beamers (288-97), while CN Power (23rd in the WFTDA) and Steel Hurtin’ (19th) went toe-to-toe for much of the game (the hosts were up by 2 points at half) before Steel City was able to hold off Toronto with a 156-136 victory.

On Sunday, Toronto headed to Columbus to play the two Atlanta teams who’d played there the night before. The Bruisers fell into a deep whole early against the The Rumble Bs before surging back; unfortunately, they were unable to fully bridge the gap, falling 234-190 to a talented squad. The last time CN Power met Atlanta’s Dirty South Derby Girls (15th) was in last year’s playoffs, and Toronto nearly shocked the heavily favoured Atlanta skaters before losing by 40. Despite missing key skaters, Toronto once again stuck with Atlanta and put in a solid performance in the 214-110 loss.

Toronto recently surged to 13th in the WFTDA before a six (now eight) game losing streak knocked them back to 23rd. This weekend’s performance showed that this is properly the correct ranking for the team right now. A winnable-20 point loss to a team ranked four spots above them followed by a strong showing against an Atlanta team nearly ten spots above them will help the team hold its spot as the skaters rest up and repair for a late-season playoff push.

***CN Power will be heading to Spring Roll next weekend in Fort Wayne where they will face some tough competition. On May 24th, Toronto’s house league season continues with the the Death Track Dolls and Chicks Ahoy! meeting in a regular season matchup.

Gores Take Down Chicks to Kick Off ToRD’s 2014 Season

Chicks Ahoy! 157 vs. Gore-Gore Rollergirls 218

The Chicks and Gores season opener was the seventh regular season meeting between the two teams. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

The Chicks and Gores season opener was the seventh regular season meeting between the two teams. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

When last they met, the Chicks Ahoy! and the Gore-Gore Rollergirls were on different paths. The Gores were wrapping up a second place finish in the 2013 regular season standings while the Chicks were putting to rest a rough, rebuilding season that saw them suffer historic losses (all of this in the wake of back-to-back ToRD championships). The Gores took the final game of the 2013 regular season 323-75 in a lopsided, hard-to-watch game. Fast forward half a year and the Chicks Ahoy!, despite not too many changes to the roster, are suddenly back in the conversation, and it’s not that the Gores have slipped, as they too seem poised to contend.

Toronto Roller Derby kicked off its 2014 house league season in style at The Bunker in Downsview Park on Saturday night in front of a packed house of fans who braved the frigid temperatures in order to ring in ToRD’s 8th season. Despite a much more competitive match than their last tilt, in the end the Gores continued their regular season domination over their long-time rivals Chicks Ahoy! with a hard fought 218-157 victory. It was the seventh time the two teams have met in ToRD’s regular season, and the sixth time the Gores emerged victorious.

Chicks Hyena Koffinkat lines up next to Lumberjack Flash. Rookies (and transfers) would have big roles in this game. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

The Chicks’ Hyena Koffinkat lines up next to Lumberjack Flash. Rookies (and transfers) would have big roles in this game. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Both the Chicks and the Gores were bolstered this season by choosing wisely in an entry draft that featured a number of experienced skaters transferring from leagues as far away as Halifax and Vancouver: some of these so called “rookies” had a major impact on the season opener. Both teams seemed hesitant off of the starting whistle, but it was the Chicks who took advantage of some early Gore penalty trouble. One question the Chicks had entering the season was with their jammer rotation and they answered that quickly. Second-year Chicks Heavy Knitter and Chevy Chase-Her (fully healed from injury) were joined by draftees Hyena Koffinkat and the blazingly fast Sneaky Dee to form a rotation that has the potential to see out the season. The Gores also threw a rookie into the rotation as Lumberjack Flash joined Lexi Con, Taranasaurus Rex and R.I. Pink with the star in the opening period. With depleted packs, the Gores couldn’t get much going early on, while the Chicks pulled ahead 29-13 ten minutes in.

Lexi Con (who lef all scorers) attempts to break through a Rebel Rock-It and Rosemary's Rabies two wall. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Lexi Con (who led all scorers) attempts to break through a Rebel Rock-It and Rosemary’s Rabies two-wall. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

But the Gores roared back. After riding through the penalty troubles, the Gores took off, picking up a string of five straight lead-jammer statuses and going on a 48-0 run to retake the lead. Indicative of a season opener, the first half had wild swings in momentum as the rust fell off and both teams struggled through penalty issues and loose packs, with neither able to take control. A final-jam power jam for the Chicks (skated by Sneaky Dee who had 34 first-half points) had them within 9, down 91-82 at the half.

The Gores made a slight adjustment at half time, swapping in rookie transfer Guardian Paingel to the jammer rotation and slipping last year’s second-leading scorer T-Rex into the pack (she had 29 points in the first half to lead the Gores in scoring). The Chicks stuck with the plan and led off with Hyena Koffinkat (who had made a big impression with 35 points in the opening period); unfortunately, the Terminal City transfer found herself sitting for back-to-back penalties that allowed her Vancouver counterpart, Paingel, to make her mark on the game. The Gores came out flying to start the second half and took advantage of the penalty trouble for a 31-0 run that helped them amass a lead that the Chicks, despite determined play, could not overcome. Paingel would pick up three leads in her first three jams and fourteen points in the process (she’d finish with 21 in the half).

Sneaky Dee tries to sneak past Gores vets Santa Muerte and Kandy Barr. Sneaky Dee scored 68 points to lead the Chicks. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Sneaky Dee tries to sneak past Gores vets Santa Muerte and Kandy Barr. Sneaky Dee scored 68 points to lead the Chicks. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Last year’s leading scorer, Lexi Con, who had a relatively quiet first half, simply took over in the second, picking up 76 points (for 104 on the game). But it was also the pack work that was the difference. Veterans Santa Muerte and Chronic were simply dominant at times, and the leadership of pivot Kandy Barr was undeniable as well. But depth players also stood out with Viktory Lapp playing the most effective game of her career, while rookie (and Halifax transfer) Machu Beatchu looked incredibly comfortable in her first game in Toronto, despite running into some penalty trouble.

The Chicks also saw some depth players step up into big roles, perhaps none more so than R2-Smack-U who often donned the stripe as pivot, Rosemary’s Rabies who has transitioned from jammer to blocker this season and was excellent on the track with some timely snipes and demoralizing drag backs, and Emraged who seems ready and willing to build off of an impressive rookie season in 2013. But it was the veterans who led the way with Robber Blind and an inspired Tess D-Urb-Evil picking up heavy minutes and Rebel Rock-It and Hoff (both returning to the Chicks after Rebel spent last season on CN Power and Hoff spent it on injured reserve) adding depth; Biggley Smallz, who was having a big game, fell into penalty trouble early and eventually fouled out.

Although the Chicks were never down by more than 61 in the half, they were never able to get closer than 30 either and a balanced Gores’ half allowed them to take their victory comfortably. In the end, the Gores showed that they are a team to beat this season, but perhaps more importantly, the Chicks are back as well. The close game is nice a season-opening promise of parity in Toronto Roller Derby.

TJRD Torontosaurus Wrex 236 vs. AJRD Blister Sisters 82

TJRD hosted Alliston for their first JRDA sanctioned game of 2014. (Photo by Joe Mac)

TJRD hosted Alliston for their first JRDA sanctioned game of 2014. (Photo by Joe Mac)

But it wasn’t all about ToRD on Saturday, as the night was capped off by a thoroughly entertaining junior bout that saw Toronto Junior Roller Derby’s Torontosaurus Wrex hold off Alliston’s Blisters Sisters 236-82.

The incredible growth of flat track roller derby has continued unabated and is establishing a system of grassroots support that will provide a platform of continued stability for the growth of the sport; something that is never more apparent than when the juniors take to the track.

AJRD Joe

Alliston’s Blister Sisters enter the track at The Bunker. (Photo by Joe Mac)

Toronto hosted Alliston to kick off their 2014 season and they looked very strong. It was close in the early going, as the hosts led 111-45 at halftime of the JRDA-sanctioned game, but they simply overwhelmed Alliston in the second half to record the 154-point win. It was a thoroughly enjoyable game—high in strategy, stratospheric in effort—a fine showcase of the future of the sport.

Fans will get another chance to watch Toronto’s juniors play on May 10th when they once again team up with their big sisters from ToRD for a game at The Bunker.

***Next up for Toronto Roller Derby: On February 8th ToRD’s marquee team, CN Power, will host Team Ontario in a preseason matchup that will feature some of the finest skaters in the province.

Chicks and Gores Kick Off ToRD’s 8th Season

This will be the seventh regular season meeting between these two teams.

This will be the seventh regular season meeting between these two teams.

Toronto Roller Derby’s greatest feud will be reignited on Saturday night as the Chicks Ahoy! and the Gore-Gore Rollergirls face each other to kick off ToRD’s eighth season. This will be the seventh regular season meeting between the two historic teams, with the Gores dominating those meetings (winning five of six), including a thoroughly dominant 323-75 win in 2013 that amounted to the greatest loss in the Chicks’ history and ended a string of three-straight victories for the Chicks over the Gores dating back to 2011.

The one area where the Chicks have the edge over the Gores is in playoff showdowns. Over five playoff meetings (all in the championship game) the Chicks actually hold a 3-2 edge, including back-to-back wins in 2011/12, the first of which ended the Gores’ twelve-game winning streak (which remains a ToRD record). However, last year marked somewhat of a letdown for the perennial favourites.

When CN Power began to run with a distinct roster after the 2012 season, the Gores and the Chicks were the teams that suffered from roster losses the most, resulting in last year’s “rebuilding” season. The Gores responded much better to the roster shuffle in 2013, finishing second in the regular season standings before being upset by the Smoke City Betties in the semifinal. The Chicks, on the other hand, suffered mightily, finishing last in the regular season standings and being outscored by a remarkable (461 points) 743-282.

Both teams look to return to the form that saw them dominate for much of the early history of the league.

The 2014 Gore-Gore Rollergirls

Photo by Ashlea Wessel (ashleaw.com)

Photo by Ashlea Wessel (ashleaw.com)

Such has been the incredible success of the Gore-Gore Rollergirls, that last season’s second place finish in the regular season and semifinal loss amounts to a bad year: the worst in the team’s history, actually. After having its offense essentially gutted heading into the season (losing two of the league’s greatest jammers in Bambi and Dust Bunny), not much was expected from the three-time ToRD champs. But the skaters in leopard print had other ideas.

RETURNING SKATERS

Last year, the team was led by a core of veterans in the pack including Kandy Barr (who skated 53% of the Gores’ regular season jams in 2013), Gamma Rei (53%), and Emma Dilemma (42%) along with Chronic and Santa Muerte who were excellent when on the track, but also struggled with injuries. A strong rookie class was led by rookie track-time leader Purple Pain (47%). All of these skaters return to the track this season. Another vet, Miss Kitty La Peur also suffered through serious injury issues last year and will look to bounce back.

A number of second and third year skaters will also be looked upon to build on strong seasons, including Full Deck, Viktory Lapp and Wheely Nasty, while highly touted 2013 transfer Amefyst, who never made it to the track last season due to injury, will finally debut for the Gores in 2014.

The biggest surprise last season was how successful the Gores were from the jam line. Led by rookie of the year (and the first rookie to register the league’s highest JQ rating) Lexi Con (228 points, 6.0 points per jam, 76% lead percentage), the Gores also got strong jamming from rookie transfer Taranasaurus Rex (157, 4.6, 59%), and veteran R.I. Pink (85, 3.5, 62%). All three will form the core of the offense this season. Beaver Mansbridge emerged as a viable double threat as well, and put up solid numbers despite limited action (57, 5.2, 45%).

FRESH FACES

The Gores lost a few key pieces in the off season, non bigger than triple threat Foxy Sinatra and long-time blocker/pivot Junkie Jenny (who transferred to the Death Track Dolls). Foxy’s loss affects every aspect of the Gores game, from her punishing pack work to her explosive jamming.

But the Gores did well in an incredibly deep entry draft loaded with experienced transfer skaters. From nearby Royal City, Francesca Fiure is an intelligent skater with a wealth of derby knowledge who could be ready to log serious minutes in the pack. Machu Beatchu was one of the east coast’s biggest prospects when she transferred from Halifax, while Guardian Paingel makes sure the Gores have coast-to-coast representation after transferring from Vancouver’s Terminal City. Blocker, and potential pivot, Moose Knuckles and jammer Lumberjack Flash are both more familiar faces for ToRD fans as they were developed through the D-VAS system and both had strong 2013s.

THE OUTLOOK

The future looks bright for the Gores! Expect them to be right back where they normally are: In contention. This roster easily has the potential to get right back to the top. Look for the Gores to return to the Battle for the Boot in 2014.

The 2014 Chicks Ahoy!

Photo by Ashlea Wessel (ashleaw.com)

Photo by Ashlea Wessel (ashleaw.com)

The Chicks Ahoy! are coming off of their roughest season to date, but look to build upon what amounted to a solid rebuilding year. With the smallest amount of roster change in the off season, and the return of a few key players from injury, the Chicks hope to get back in to winning form this season.

RETURNING SKATERS

The good news for the Chicks is that a majority of the roster returns to pick up where they left off. The three track-time leaders Robber Blind (57% of the Chicks’ jams), Emraged (42%) and Biggley Smallz (42%) are all back and will form a solid core in the pack (Furious Georgia was also in this group and while on the roster, will be on leave this season). Add to that the expected and anticipated return of star blocker Marmighty and veteran leader Hoff, the experience of fourth-year blocker Tess D’Urb-Evil, and the expected improved play of a large number of second and third year skaters who were thrust into unexpectedly prominent roles last season (I’m looking at you Doris Doomsday, Joss Wheelin, R2-Smack-U, Machete Maiden, Heavy Knitter, Mean Streak, and Rosemary’s Rabies) and this looks like a team ready to break out.

Offensively things should be looking up as well. Last year’s jammer core was wracked with injuries but the return of a healthy Chevy Chase-Her and Roadside BombShel will go a long way in securing a consistent offense.

FRESH FACES

Arguably the most important fresh face is not that fresh a face at all; instead, it’s the recognizable face of Rebel Rock-It. A long time ToRD veteran (she began her career as a Bay Street Bruiser when the Bruisers were still a houseleague team), Rebel returns to the team with which she has had the most success and will be a big impact in the pack (and can jam as well). Sneaky Dee was a breakout star for the D-VAS in 2013 and the incredibly speedy skater could have an immediate impact on a jammer rotation that does lack depth. Speaking of that, Hyena Koffinkat is a transfer from Terminal City where she just completed her rookie season as a jammer. And finally, Wheels of Misfortune is another transfer, from nearby Durham Region, who brings considerable track experience to the Chicks’ pack.

THE OUTLOOK

Look for the Chicks to turn things around in 2014 and bounce back from a tough season. In a year where parity could be the dominant storyline, the Chicks provide a dark horse for the narrative and could easily surprise everyone.

***The season opener is this Saturday at The Bunker in Downsview Park. Doors at 5:00 PM, the opening whistle is at 6:00 PM. Stick around afterwards for a very special bout as Toronto Junior Roller Derby hosts Alliston Junior Roller Derby in a junior derby showdown. Tickets are available online or at a number of downtown locations.

Battle for the Boot 7: The 2013 ToRD Championship

Battle for the Boot 7: The 2013 TorD Champs PosterHistory will be made at the 2013 Battle for the Boot. Regardless of the outcome in this first ever championship showdown between the Death Track Dolls and the Smoke City Betties, a first time ToRD champion will be named, added to the list that so far has included only the Gore-Gore Rollergirls (2007, 2009, 2010) and the Chicks Ahoy! (2008, 2011, 2012). It’s a historic moment in this early history of ToRD, representing the first true power shift in the league from the early consistent dominance of the Gores and Chicks (who also met in five of the first six championship games). The 2013 season and the 7th Battle for the Boot represent nothing less the beginning of a new era in Toronto Roller Derby.

PAST

These two teams both have distinct histories. Formed in early 2006 in a pre-ToRD Toronto, the Smoke City Betties joined Hammer City, Montreal Roller Derby and Edmonton’s Oil City as the first wave of flat track roller derby in Canada and would form the pillars that would provide a foundation for the explosive growth of the sport in the country that would follow.

At the same time that the Betties exploded on to the scene, another team would rise in Toronto, the Terrors. Both the Terrors and Betties would see their numbers swell by the time that the Betties would host the first ever Canadian inter-league tournament, the Betties D-Day, in August 2006. Leading up to that tournament, the Terrors would split into four teams: the Chicks Ahoy!, the Bay Street Bruisers, The D-VAS and finally, the Death Track Dolls.

The Betties and the Gores face off in the 2009 Battle for the Boot. (Photo by Kevin Konnyu)

The Betties and the Gores face off in the 2009 Battle for the Boot. (Photo by Kevin Konnyu)

In the coming months, the Betties too would divide, giving birth to the Gore-Gore Rollergirls and the six teams in Toronto would unify to form Toronto Roller Derby. In 2007, the inaugural season, the Dolls would struggle, going winless, while the Betties competed but could not reel in the Chicks and Gores. It was a similar story in 2008 when both the Dolls and Betties would lose in the semifinals. Following contraction in 2009 (when the Bruisers and D-VAS were removed from the houseleague), the Betties surged while the Chicks stumbled and the Dolls slipped to last in the new four-team ToRD. Yet again, the Betties would find themselves held back by the team that had spawned from them, the Gores, in the Battle for the Boot 3. It was a historic loss for the team that would see the core of the squad gutted in the ’09-2010 off season and forced into a complete rebuild.

Since that time the fortunes of the Dolls and Betties has ebbed and flowed, with the Betties finishing last in the league in 2010 and 2011, and the Dolls stumbling to fourth in 2012. With losing seasons racking up and top draft picks coming their way, it was only a matter of time before the Dolls and Betties would emerge as contenders.

The Dolls dominated the regular season showdown between these teams, winning 265-63. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

The Dolls dominated the regular season showdown between these teams, winning 265-63. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

PRESENT

Both teams entered 2013 with high hopes. After a two-year absence, the Betties returned to the ToRD semifinals in 2012 and hoped to build on that this season. The Dolls, on the other hand, missed the playoffs for the first time since 2009, but drafted experience and had clearly built a base that looked ready to compete in 2013. While the Dolls got off to a better start, the Betties stumbled out of the gates, losing to the Gores and then suffering the team’s worst loss in history to the Dolls to close out the season. But both have also been on the rise: The Dolls clumsily defeated the Chicks to kick off the season, then lost to Forest City’s Timber Rollers (a WFTDA apprentice travel tram), before taking out the Gores and finally rolling into form against the Betties to clinch a spot in the final. The Betties looked lost at times this season, before finally coming together as a team in the semifinal and eliminating the Gores, ending the Gores’ six-year run as Battle for the Boot participants.

In short, both teams are peaking at just the right time.

FUTURE

After battling through injuries in 2012, Audrey Hellborn is back menacing jammers in 2013. (Photo by Greg Russell)

After battling through injuries in 2012, Audrey Hellborn (right) is back menacing jammers in 2013. (Photo by Greg Russell)

The future is now for the Dolls and Betties, and there is no doubt that neither team is looking further into the future than this coming Saturday. The Dolls seem poised, riding a relentless pack and an untouchable four-jammer rotation, all indications point to this game being theirs to lose. Although they started strong, the Betties could mount little offense against the Dolls in their regular season showdown (only managing 22 points in the second half) and will need to find a way to produce some offense.

While both teams have a depth of experience on the bench, there are some key players to watch. The Dolls co-captains Scarcasm and Speedin’ Hawking have been leading excellent packs all season, and in the centre of it all has been Audrey Hellborn. Audrey was a dominant player in the league’s early history but a variety of injuries over the past few years have kept her out of the spotlight: in 2013 she’s roared back into the picture, and her relentless jammer killing has turned around jams and games. Also, the addition of transfer Rainbow Fight has given the Dolls a multi-faceted weapon to rely on. Rainbow has been incredible in the pack but has also put up jammer numbers (8.0 PPJ, 88% lead percentage) that have never been seen before.

Betties co-captains Hailey Copter (jammer) and Misery Mae will need to have strong games for the Betties to succeed. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Betties co-captains Hailey Copter (jammer) and Misery Mae (pivot) will need to have strong games for the Betties to succeed. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

For the Betties, the co-captains Misery Mae and Hailey Copter will be key. Hailey has struggled at times this season seeing her numbers drop from 2012’s career high 3.6 PPJ and 50% lead percentage to 2.6 PPJ and a 39% lead percentage this season (Slaptrick Swayze just inched out Hailey as the team’s leading scorer, 126-123, and will have to be strong as well). But Hailey clearly remains the heart and soul of the offense. Misery Mae, who was a key offensive blocker in the semifinal, will need to put in a similar performance in the champs if the Betties hope to crack the Dolls’ killer defense. And finally, Wolverina has emerged as a key triple threat for this team, and will need to provide go-to offense for the Betties while remaining steady in the pack.

* Get your tickets now for this historic showdown! They are available online or at a number of vendors in the city. Doors open at 6:00 PM and be sure to be there for the Toronto Junior Roller Derby exhibition. Opening whistle of the Battle for the Boot is 7:30.

Youth In Revolt: The Future of Flat Track (Part 2)

(* This article was originally written for print, but unfortunately the magazine folded before it could be published. A significantly edited version of this article appeared on this site in May 2011.)

TJRD's Knicker Kickers faces Hew Hampshire's Mad Missfits in their debut bout in May, 2011. (Photo by Joe Mac)

The fact that junior roller derby will change the competitive level of the sport was never more evident than during TJRD’s historic debut bout in May, 2011. On Saturday, May 14, history was made as the TJRD Knicker Kickers welcomed the Mad Missfits from New Hampshire. Not only was it the first junior roller derby bout to be played in eastern Canada, but the first ever cross-border roller derby bout between Canadian and American clubs. All things considered, the level of play was phenomenal. While things got off to a slow start as each team dealt with the pressures of playing under the big lights of a senior-derby venue in front of an actual crowd against unfamiliar opposition, the girls quickly became comfortable on the track. Solid positional blocking, fast pace lines and even the hints of isolation strategies were all in play. It was a tight bout early on with older skaters like Feral Carole (TJRD) and Pearl Slam (Mad Missfits) leading the packs as pivots, while Awesome Sauce and Kamikaze Kupcake jammed for Toronto, with Li’l Trouble and Auti-Mobile leading the offense for the Missfits. Leads were traded back and forth before Seemore Bruises broke the game wide open with a big pick up on a power jam to give her team a 31-24 lead; they would hold on to lead 34-27 at the half.

Coach Tommy, a derby dad and coach of the visiting Mad Missfits, echoes the importance of these junior leagues to girls and notes that many of the parents of his players also brought their girls to roller derby to avoid the “traditional” sports on offer, and the results have been obvious. “I think we are seeing a huge difference in (the skaters)! We are using derby to instill self-confidence, leadership, and determination in young girls that are being ‘missed’ by traditional sports,” he says. “In this way, I think junior roller derby can find its place in youth sports. It provides a competitive, athletic activity that can reach young girls who, for one reason or another, are uninterested in other sports.”

This outlet for young women is obviously important and the effects of roller derby extend far beyond the borders of the track and into the lives of young women. “Roller derby saved some of their lives,” B.D.I. boldly tells me of her teammates. Coach Lucid Lou (who coaches the league with Coach Vader, a retired ToRD skater, and current skater Mouth of the South and referees R’Effin Adora Bell and T-Ref) confirms this, and says that success for these young women has followed them from derby into their social lives and schooling. Lou has been a key part of ToRD’s fresh meat training program over the years, and has seen similar things from the senior skaters as well. “I see the growth in adults too. I’ve seen women come in (to fresh meat) in their 30s, and the transition that happens with them,” she says, “and it’s even more incredible to see that happening in a younger generation, where these girls are having a chance to self-evaluate and grow at a younger age.” The inherent inclusivity of the roller derby community means that junior roller derby provides a safe and celebratory space for all kinds of kids and a space where being oneself is not only allowed, but encouraged.

When The Kickers and The Missfits skated back onto the track for the second half, it was hard to tell who was winning as players on both teams glowed from their opportunity in the spot light. Fully warmed-up and acclimatized to the setting, the competitive level ramped up in the second half. Joan of Argghh was a more than capable pivot for the Kickers, while Biff Break It took on the stripe for the Missfits. Auti-Mobile took over the offense for New Hampshire, showing a great athleticism, leaping lines and juking blockers, helping her team retake the lead 45-43 five minutes into the second. The diminutive Miss Fit responded for Toronto, showing no fear against her much larger teammates. The various ages that play together now (out of necessity until the sport grows to the point where ages can be separated) makes for a wide disparity in sizes, but it didsn’t seem to affect the play or the confidence of the skaters. The sort of inclusivity at the heart of roller derby was apparent when a handful of Toronto skaters switched sides to play for the short-benched Missfits. Two of those skaters, L’il Trouble and Monster Mayhem, said that they didn’t mind. “As long as we get to play!” they both exclaimed on the bench before the game. The bout remained close right through to the end, with neither team capable of holding a substantial lead. Eventually, the Mad Missfits held on for the 82-74 victory, but both benches seemed awfully pleased with how things went.

It was an extraordinary and historic moment for the sport of roller derby and perhaps even women’s sport in general; this generation of youth skaters is just the peak of a steadily growing wave, a wave that is now even overtaking the education system. The Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders in derby-mad Austin, Texas, was the first school to offer roller derby as an official extracurricular activity. And while they are limited to playing junior leagues right now, another Austin school, LBJ High School, is set to join in on the movement. In New Hampshire, Coach Tommy says the Mad Missfits have been welcomed into local schools around Peterborough to perform demonstrations of the sport in yet another sign of the growing awareness of the legitimacy of the sport.

But their place in history was lost on the junior girls playing in that game in May. They didn’t seem interested in the larger meaning of their accomplishment. Their expressions said it all: they were there for the fun of the game, the camaraderie of the team. They were there for themselves, and nothing more. Watching those expression on the bench was actually almost as exciting as watching the play on the track. Their enthusiasm was so earnest and so complete that it was infectious and extraordinarily heart warming. They may not have grasped the larger implications of what they were doing—the reverberations that this would one day have in the larger roller derby community—but they certainly understood one thing clearly, perhaps even more clearly than their big sister skaters in the senior leagues: flat track roller derby is one fun sport.

*Read Part 1 here.

TJRD Goes Public with a Historic Bout at the Hangar

Toronto Junior Roller Derby skaters practice at the Hangar in Downsview Park. (photo by Nancy Jo Cullen)

Knicker Kickers (TJRD) 74 vs. Mad Missfits (New Hampshire) 82

If you stopped by ToRD’s Hangar on any Sunday afternoon this winter, you would have seen a pretty normal scene: A bunch of rollergirls running drills, scrimmaging, a few refs working on calls, refining their knowledge of the rules. It would look like any other scene that has been playing out in derby spaces all across North America (and increasingly, the world). But if you were to get a little closer to the track, you’d see that what you were looking at wasn’t just a normal roller derby practice, and these were not regular skaters. You’d quickly realize that this was a Toronto Junior Roller Derby practice, and what you were looking at was the future of the sport.

Toronto Junior Roller Derby (TJRD) was founded in May 2010, an initiative of long-time rollerderby super fan B.D.I. with a lot of help from her derby-playing mom Lucid Lou (of ToRD’s Death Track Dolls). TJRD is one of only three junior roller derby leagues in Canada (both of the other leagues are in Edmonton), but just the tip of a growing North American trend that is also beginning to see leagues popping up in high schools. The popularity of the league is undeniable as almost 50 skaters are now involved.

The TJRD Knicker Kickers get introduced at their debut bout on May 14, 2011. (Photo by Joe Mac)

Junior roller derby plays a “loco” (low contact) form of the sport based on the WFTDA rule set. The twenty first century brand of roller derby differs most from its earlier counterparts in its accessibility and reputation, two things that have been essential in its perpetuation.  The importance of these junior leagues to the continued success of the sport cannot be downplayed. ToRD’s creation of a farm team, the D-VAS, has already had a profound effect on the level of play in the league  as skaters now are drafted onto teams with ample experience, including with bouting. Once the junior leagues start to graduate skaters into the senior ranks on a regular basis, the entry-level skills and confidence of the players will change in an even bigger way. To put it simply: Competitive derby is about to get a whole lot more competitive.

New Hampshire's Mad Missfits were TJRD's opponents in their debut bout. (photo by Joe Mac)

And this was never more evident than during TJRD’s historic bout this past weekend. On Saturday, May 14, the TJRD Knicker Kickers made their bouting debut against the Mad Missfits from New Hampshire. Not only was it the first junior roller derby bout to be played in eastern Canada, but the first ever cross border junior roller derby bout between Canadian and American clubs. All things considered, the level of play was phenomenal. Solid positional blocking, fast pace lines and even the hints of isolation strategies were in all in play. It was a tight bout early on with senior skaters like Feral Carole (TJRD) and Pearl Slam (Mad Missfits) leading the packs as pivots, while Awesome Sauce and Kamikaze Kupcake jammed for Toronto, with Li’l Trouble and Auti-Mobile leading the offense for the Missfits. Leads were traded back and forth before TJRD’s Seemore Bruises broke the game wide open with a big pick up on a power jam to give her team a 31-24 lead; they would hold on to lead 34-27 at the half.

Differences in age and size didn't seem to make much difference on the track. (photo by Joe Mac)

The importance of roller derby extends far beyond the borders of the track and into the lives of young women. “Roller derby saved some of their lives,” B.D.I. boldly tells me of her teammates, pointing out that it is important for girls to be playing a sport made by girls for girls. Coach Lucid Lou (who coaches the league with Coach Vader, a former ToRD skater, current skater Mouth of the South and referees R’Effin Adora Bell and T-Ref), confirms this, and says that success for these young women has followed them from derby into their social lives and schooling. Lou has been a key part of ToRD’s fresh meat training program over the years, and has seen similar things from the senior skaters as well. “I see the growth in adults too. I’ve seen women come in (to fresh meat) in their 30s, and the transition that happens with them,” she says, “and it’s even more incredible to see that happening in a younger generation, where these girls are having a chance to self-evaluate and grow at a younger age.” The inherent inclusivity of the roller derby community means that junior roller derby provides a safe and celebratory space for all kinds of kids and a space where being oneself is not only allowed, but encouraged (it should be mentioned that boys are involved as well, as referees and anouncers).

TJRD skater Madzilla didn't have any problems playing with or cheering for the Mad Missfits. (photo by Joe Mac)

The pace and athleticism of the skaters improved as the bout went on and everyone got used to skating with each other. Auti-Mobile took over the offense for the Missfits in the second half, showing a great athleticism, leaping lines and juking blockers, helping New Hampshire retake the lead 42-45 five minutes in. The diminutive Miss Fit responded for Toronto, showing no fear against her much larger opponents. The various ages that play together now (out of necessity until the sport grows to the point where ages can be separated), makes for a wide disparity in sizes, but it doesn’t seem to affect the play or the confidence of the skaters. Joan of Argghh was a more than capable pivot for the Kickers, while Biff Break-It took on the stripe for the Missfits. The communal inclusivity at the heart of roller derby was apparent when a handful of Toronto skaters actually played for the short-benched Missfits (including Biff). Two of those skaters, L’il Trouble and Monster Mayhem, said that they didn’t mind. “As long as we get to play!” they both exclaimed on the bench before the game, and they both played hard during it. The bout remained close right through to the end, with neither team capable of maintaining a lead. Eventually, the Mad Missfits held on for the 82-74 victory, but both benches seemed awfully pleased with how things went.

Watching the excitement of the girls on the bench was actually almost as exciting as watching the play on the track. Excuse the cliché, but their enthusiasm was so earnest and so complete that it was infectious and extraordinarily heart warming. They may not all have grasped the larger implications of what they were doing—the reverberations that this would one day have in the larger roller derby community—but they certainly understood one thing clearly, perhaps even more clearly than their big sister skaters in the senior leagues: flat track roller derby is one fun sport.

*TJRD will be heading to Cleveland for a junior tournament at the end of June. For more information about this or about the league, please visit the TJRD website.

* ToRD.TV was on hand to capture the event and you can watch the archive here. TJRD’s Miss Fit (watch here) and Biff Break It (watch here) have served as guest reporters on ToRD.TV. You can also watch ToRD TV’s interview with skater Seemore Bruises (formerly known as Claire De Looney) and derby mom Nancy Jo Cullen.

Gores cap off another unbeaten regular season with win over Betties

The Gores were pushed early by the Betties who had their best bout of the season. (Photography by Neil Gunner)

Smoke City Betties 59 vs. Gore-Gore Rollergirls 130

Despite three bouts in the Greater Toronto Area last night, the Hangar was packed, the crowd eager to see the Gore-Gore Rollergirls and Smoke City Betties square off in their final bout of the regular season. The Gores were all but assured of not only a spot in the playoffs, but of a bye directly to Battle for the Boot 5. For the Betties, the end of another losing season was on the horizon, but this seemed to inspire them to pull out a strong performance against the defending champs, and in the end, despite a score line that read a 71 point victory for the Gores (their twelfth in a row), the Betties were able to skate away knowing they’d brought the fight to the champs, managing to put together, arguably, their best bout of the season.

Fast, physical packs defined the bout.

Things started off very well for the Betties, with some strong walls and solid jamming to keep things close early on. Leads were hard to get but even harder to hold as the jammers often exited their initial passes together. The Betties seem to have taken an important step forward: they’ve bought into the systems that are necessary to play to be successful, and they’ve settled nicely into their roles on the track. Particularly in the early going, and then periodically throughout, the Betties seemed to be playing the exact same game—fast, tight packs, a short jammer rotation–but the Gores, with their experience, just managed to keep a step or two ahead. There’d been whispers of a new-look Gores team—some potential surprises—and at one point, with the Gores threatening to pull away (up 40-5 nearing the midway point), it looked like the fans might see something interesting happen, but big pickups from BruiseBerry Pie and Memphis Kitty on consecutive power jams (despite some excellent power kill work by the Gores) narrowed the lead to 40-23, and necessitated some strong play from the Gores to keep the Betties in check.

Hurlin Wall' continued her role as jammer hunter with some hard blocking on Betties' jammer Sail Her Poon.

The story for the Betties early on was the exceptional play of both BruiseBerry Pie and Memphis Kitty, who stepped up in a big way. Memphis Kitty has been having an excellent season for the Betties, shining first against the Death Track Dolls and then in this one; she fought for every inch of track and forced some timely calls by the Gores jammers. She seemed to relish the opportunity to face familiar opponents in Bambi and Dust Bunny. Bruise also had a great night jamming, and is developing into a triple threat for the Betties, excelling tonight especially at pivot (settling into a more organizational role) and with the star (where she was strong both strategically, and physically), and had some hard-fought battles with Hurlin’ Wall in the early going. The Gores finished the half solidly, but the Betties seemed unperturbed and remained well within reach 60-33 at the half.

Brim Stone was back jamming for the Gores.

As the Gores did increase their lead, some of that expected experimentation began. Looking to add depth to their jammer rotation, Bambi and Dust Bunny did pack duty for much of the second half allowing Brim Stone to lead rookie Lulu Cthulu and second year player Pinky Violence in the offence. Also, Aston Martini donned the stripe to lead the pack and rookie Wheely Nasty also gave pivoting a chance, part of another big night for ToRD rookies (in a season that is turning out to be the year of thre rookie). Emma Dilemma was solid in the pack for the Gores, while Misery Mae was a big part of the Betties defence playing a physical game, but reeling it in defensively when needed. The Betties kept hanging around, keeping the Gores in their sights, and were well within reach, down only 67-49 ten minutes into the second half.

Platinum Bomb was just one of the skaters playing multiple roles.

The Betties continue to tinker with things as well; with Bruise taking on more of a role jamming, Tropic Thunder took on a larger role in pack. Similarly, having jammers titmouse and Platinum Bomb at their disposal allowed Memphis Kitty to take up the stripe and lead the packs. While the Betties managed to hang on until late in this one, the experienced Gores were eventually able to pull away. As with the bout against the Dolls (where the Betties also drifted late), the Betties could not sustain the momentum long enough to overtake their opponents. Nonetheless, having their best showing against the Gores in the last three bouts—and maintaining a consistent upward growth throughout the season—should allow the Betties to go confidently into the off season knowing that they have finally turned a crucial corner on the road back to competitiveness. They’ve got the right mix of experience and talent now; it’s just a matter of bringing it all together. For the Gores, the victory secures a trip to the June 25th championship and a chance to defend the Boot.

* The Toronto Junior Roller Derby league held its inaugural bout to kick off the double header, hosting New Hampshire’s Mad Missfits; stay tuned for a full recap later this week.

* Both games were boutcast live by the ToRD TV team via Canuck Derby TV. You can watch the archived boutcasts here. Layer9 captured it all track side in HD.