Part 9: Taking the Test
Four months of falls, bruises, breaks, triumphs and frustrations, and ToRD’s latest fresh meat group has come to the end of the track. Our numbers have dwindled from 90+ to about 40, as those who underestimated the physicality and dedication that the sport requires have pulled away. There’s nothing left to do to prepare, and WFTDA’s minimum skills test is now upon us. Over the months there have been obvious divisions in abilities and talent. Many will pass the test, but some will not. Those who do will move on to ToRD’s farm team, the DVAS, where once again there will be divisions in talent, and eventually the top skaters in my fresh meat group will enter the draft and become chosen by one of Toronto’s four home teams. A few then will begin to train even harder, peering hopefully to CN Power, Toronto’s travel team, which recently graduated to full WFTDA status and will be competing in the North Central Region. For a select few, that is the ultimate goal.
Right now, you could almost say that Canada is going through its own fresh meat program in WFTDA. Currently there are five full Canadian WFTDA members (Montreal, Hamilton, Tri-City Thunder, Vancouver and Toronto), while one, Rideau Valley, is completing its apprenticeship. But just as every fresh meat group has that superstar who is obviously way better than everyone else (a figure skater or hockey player usually), Montreal is very much at the top of the class in Canada.
It was in that all-important roller derby year of 2009 when WFTDA finally expanded beyond the American borders to Canada as both the Hammer City Roller Girls and Montreal Roller Derby were admitted into the mix. While Hammer City had produced many of Canada’s firsts, Montreal would finally take part in an important one: on May 2, 2009, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Montreal would face Harrisburg Area Roller Derby in the first sanctioned WFTDA bout featuring Canadian and American teams. Montreal would lose that game, and many more in a busy 2009 that saw them go 2-6 and travel as far as Nashville, with 100-point losses not being unusual. But far from being deterred, the losses pushed the Skids to improve, and they sopped up the strategies they encountered.
In Canada at the time, there wasn’t much inter-city competition in a broad sense of the term, and the general consensus was that the top travel teams in Canada were on a fairly even keel. Early in 2010 ToRD invited the top four teams in the country to compete in a two day round-robin tournament, the Quad City Chaos. The host CN Power would take part along with Canada’s two WFTDA teams (Montreal’s New Skids on the Block and Hammer City’s Eh! Team), with Vancouver’s Terminal City All Stars rounding it out. Vancouver was clearly the top team from the west, and they’d also defeated the Skids at 2008’s Derby Night in Canada. They flew east with high expectations, some western observers were adamant that Terminal City would take the tournament.
Undeterred by the losing record in 2009, Montreal kicked off 2010 with away games against Charm City (Baltimore) and Tucson, two of the most historic flat track leagues in America. While Charm City predictably stomped them (like Montreal, they too were quick to adapt to the pace and isolation strategies coming out of the west), Montreal nearly pulled off a big upset over Tucson, falling by just 9. It was a turning point for Montreal, and they’d remain on the road to record four straight sanctioned victories before heading into the QCC weekend, pulling into Toronto with buzz just beginning to generate around this squad and how quickly they were adapting to the new look flat-track game (one of those victories was a decisive 187-83 victory over Arizona, another historic team and original WFTDA member). They’d passed the test, to say the least.
Montreal put to rest any doubts of their talent when the Skids and the Eh! Team kicked off QCC weekend with a sanctioned bout. At their last meeting, in 2008, Montreal had barely won a defensive showdown 58-49. By March 2010 though, the Skids were a different sort of beast all together, and they crushed Hammer City 208-26 to send a clear message to the teams in the tournament and Canadian roller derby in general. They easily won that inaugural QCC (and this year’s version as well) and no Canadian team has even come close to them since.
Montreal would go on to have a breakout 2010, finishing 11-5 and setting another historic precedent by finishing 6th in the Eastern Region to become the first non-US team to qualify for the WFTDA playoffs where they’d be eliminated by Boston in the Eastern quarterfinals.
The rest of the country is left to chase Montreal, and try to chip away at the separation that currently exists. A league’s ability to compete will be determined, in large part, by how well it prepares its new skaters for the rigorous determination that making it to the top level of competitive flat track roller derby requires: this process begins in fresh meat. And in Toronto anyway, fresh meat is now just the first step toward making it into the league, a league that clearly has its competitive sights set high.
But as Montreal showed, to get to the top you have to start at the bottom, and although a skater has to train for four months just to get to this point, the bottom is actually the WFTDA minimum skills test. Only after passing that all-important obstacle does the journey really begin.
*** Check out this excellent documentary, Hangin’ Tough on the rise of Montreal’s New Skids on the Block