Women’s flat track roller derby is the fastest growing sport on the planet, and with over 90 leagues, Canada is at the forefront of this growth. Beginning in major centres in southern Ontario, Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver, the sport has spread to every corner of Canada’s vast expanse. The latest front line of Canada’s roller derby revolution is on the east coast where once again major cities are leading the way. The Atlantic capitals of St. John’s, Halifax, Charlottetown and Fredericton all have established leagues, with Moncton, St. John and Dieppe rounding out the surprising growth of New Brunswick’s scene. On Saturday, August 20, Moncton’s Muddy River Rollers hosted Saint. John’s Fog City Rollers in a double header featuring the hometeams from the two cities in a brilliant display of the thriving east coast game.
GAME ONE: Scarlet Swarm (FCR) 21 vs. Reines of Terror (MRR) 113
It was a steamy night in Moncton and the heat enveloped the venue, Kay Arena—an attractive new arena in the city’s east end. While Muddy River may be a comparative newcomer to the flat track community, walking into the venue pre bout was like walking into a roller derby venue anywhere across the country. The east coast explosion has mirrored other newer movements across the country in that the growth rate (both on and off the track) has been phenomenal. “It is amazing how far ahead we are now from where we were just a year ago,” says Reines of Terror assistant captain Brandy Swifter, “and the JAMboree was one of the main reasons for that…we learned things we didn’t even know about!” In mid July, Muddy River hosted the first ever Atlantic JAMboree, a weekend long tournament featuring the east coast teams joined by Ottawa’s newest league, the Capital City Derby Dolls). “We had some top notch coaches (Like Canuck Derby TV’s Dr. Johnny Capote, Montreal’s Georgia W. Tush, and Oil City’s Coach Lime) come out and help us out with things and teach us things that we had no idea about. All the leagues recognized this and are now putting it into play on the track.”
These kinds of share-all events have become a staple in the development of flat track roller derby, and typify the inclusive and sharing nature of the community. It is an aspect of the sport that has been embraced in the east. “The best part (of east coast roller derby) is we’re close enough to travel easily,” points out Bambi Romano, coach of Fog City’s Scarlet Swarm. “Everyone’s (sharing) knowledge and helping each other out, and this has caught us up to everyone really quickly.” He also acknowledges the work that Tush and Dr. Johnny have done for roller derby in the province. And like all new leagues, Fog City has embraced losing: “You don’t mind losing against someone who is teaching you,” Bambi says. “If you coach against someone who is better than you are, it’s going to make you better.”
While the larger story of Atlantic Canadian roller derby has much left to be written, in these early chapters Muddy River has emerged as the competitive leader on the track (the travel team, the Lumbersmacks, recently put in a competitive showing at the CWRDA Eastern Canadian Championship). In the first bout of the double header, ROT (Reines of Terror) looked to solidify the growing reputation of the league. They kicked things off with an impressive one-two jammer punch from their captains Brandy Swifter and Burn ‘N RubHer that the Scarlet Swarm didn’t seem to have an answer for. An early ROT power jam (after a back block major from the Swarm’s excellent Lee-Animator) saw Burn ‘N RubHer lay down 14 points and helped ROT off to an explosive 17-0 lead only four minutes in. ROT continued that dominance with five straight lead jams to kick off the bout before Swarm’s Fancy Nancy was able to grab a lead and put a few points on the board. Nancy and Lee-Animator continued their excellent jamming throughout the half, but it was the pack work of ROT (led by, among others, Smasherella who has great track sense—from giving timely pushes to holding position when necessary) that was the clear difference. A brilliantly paced power kill late in the half further frustrated the Swarm and helped ROT take a 41-10 lead into the break.
Coach Bambi was aware of the strengths of ROT. “They are a smart team,” he acknowledges, “and they communicate very well on the track.” This communication was evident in the second half as ROT began to tighten up their pack play and stepped up their game. Strong pack work from Thora Thunder and Malicious Kitty (who also donned the star) and great defensive teamwork from a line featuring Brandy Swifter, Floor Play, Tank’er Belle and Jamanda Maulograms (who also executed a relentless trap on a late power jam) allowed ROT to increase their lead in the second half. Despite the one-sided victory, Brandy Swifter was impressed with her opponents. “They (Fog City) have come such a long way; it was a good game,” she said post bout. Scarlet Swarn captain Suzie SkinHer was also happy with the way her team played, remembering how challenging Muddy River had been early on. “For every strategy we had, they had a counter strategy,” she said, “but we’ve come a long way since our first game of the season against them.” Coach Bambi also says that the “rogue” play his team was known for is slowing changing. “We’ve started to talk strategy a lot more in practice. We pulled them back and worked more on team play.” Like all new flat track teams that have come before them, they’ve learned that “going rogue all the time doesn’t necessarily help you.” A wise analysis moving forward.
GAME TWO: Daughters of Anarchy (MRR) 40 vs. Razor Girls (FCR) 73
While there was an appreciative crowd in the building and a loud travelling contingent from Fog City, it was clear that this was an audience still being educated about the sport, and the crowds in the east have not yet reached the consistent sell-outs seen in more established centres like Toronto and Montreal. Brandy Swifter acknowledges that Muddy River is still battling stereotypes and stigmas about roller roller derby in the community. “It’s tough…we have to find our niche,” she says, and spoke about a lot of the misinformed opinions they are hearing about roller derby “Everyone we talk to still thinks that (it is like the over-the-top sports entertainment of banked track in the late 70s and 80s)…it’s all Skinny Minnie Miller comments.” But those who have discovered it, like it a lot. “I think it’s really good for the young girls,” Coach Bambi says of the reception they’ve been getting in Saint. John and the importance of battling through these stereotypes. “I think it’s good for the women in these communities to come out and watch these girls really own a sport.”
It was clear from the early going that the second bout of the night was not going to be as one-sided as the first. Despite the fact that both teams were tracking depleted eleven-skater rosters (Muddy River’s DOA [Daughters of Anarchy] even had to borrow almost half their skaters from ROT), the bout kicked off at a high pace, featuring some great early jammer battles between DOA’s Sienna Killer and DeceptiCat and Razor Girls’ Katie Clubher and H-Two Oh No! But when Razor’s Tacky Tammy took the third straight lead for the Fog City and DOA jammer Ms. Hate found herself heading to the penalty box, it was clear that the Fog City team was beginning to take control of the game. But one of the double-duty skaters Burn ‘N RubHer performed brilliantly one-on-one against the Razor’s jammer Nessa Quik to help alleviate some of the pressure and keep the game from getting out of control. The bout was still wide open, 39-17 (Razor Girls) at the half.
Post bout, Burn ‘N admitted that some of the double-rostered Muddy River skaters were feeling the heat in the second game, but the biggest challenge they faced came in the form of an awesome opposing skater: Razor Girls’ triple threat Auburn Rubber (Fog City leaguemate Suzie SkinHer refered to her as the “brains on the track”). Auburn perhaps had the performance of the night and was able to successfully neutralize many of DOA’s skaters one-on-one. With the score still close—58-31 with only eight minutes left—and DOA pressing, a skillfully executed “Sanchez” (block and whip) by Auburn helped get a trapped Razor jammer through the pack and force an early jam call from Ms. Hate that killed some of DOA’s momentum. Pivot/jammer H-Two Oh No! continued her strong play as well, and aided by solid games from Alien She, Katie Clubher and reliable late-bout jamming from Lexxie Lasher, the Razor Girls were able to hold on for the impressive 33 point victory, a taste of revenge for the team who’d lost to DOA at the JAMboree. More importantly, this marked the first ever victory for a Fog City team over one of their Muddy River counterparts.
But in the bigger picture, wins and losses at this stage of the game mean very little. For these thriving east coast leagues it’s all about experience. “Sometimes we run into hiccups at practice and can’t quite figure out strategies,” Brandy Swifter says about some of Muddy River’s early derby growing pains, ”but then when we get on the track it just happens,” she laughs, but this highlights the invaluable (and incalculable) importance of experience in developing track sense. While this comes from playing, it also comes from watching as well. Fog City’s Suzie SkinHer says going to Montreal’s Beast of the East this season was very important for Fog City’s growth as a league. “It was a real eye opener,” she says of the level of play at the annual Montreal event, “like watching derby royalty!”
“The sky is the limit,” Bambi Romano says of Fog City’s aspirations in particular, but which could describe east coast roller derby in general. And based on the on-track success of this event on a balmy night in a Moncton arena, a truer description could not have been spoken.