Toronto Roller Derby’s CN Power was confident on Sunday morning as they warmed up for the early noon start. While the Thunder (ranked two spots behind ToRD’s travel team) did eventually lose 159-113, they managed to keep pace in the second half, and more importantly, they got under the skin of the Ohio skaters and took them out of their game, holding them to only 9 points over the final 10 minutes of the game. The differential was almost exactly the same as the last time CN Power had met the Thunder, and this gave CN Power hope.
There is an eerie intensity to closed games, perhaps heightened by the dusty expanse of The Bunker (looking far removed from its stint as host of the World Cup). Sunday morning is sunny and hot—the tail end of the first real summer weekend of the year—along with a full contingent of refs, NSOs and the ToRD TV boutcast crew, a handful of leaguemates is present as well. The lack of an audience does not dampen the atmosphere; instead, as the teams chant their pre-games chants into the empty room, a certain tension is felt in the silence. CN Power bursts out of the gates with their top rotation of Defecaitlin, Bambi and Candy Crossbones taking the first three lead-jammer statuses and putting up 9 points. It is methodical, and they look comfortable, settled: ready. But then in the fourth jam Ohio’s Kitty Liquorbottom picks up 9 points behind stifling pack work (as she had been the previous night in New Hamburg, Phoenix Bunz is a menace, a one-woman pack, who plays the same sort of relentless kind of derby as Rideau Valley’s Semi Precious). For the next few jams momentum swings Ohio’s way, with a 15-point power jam threatening to widen the gap between the teams.
With CN Power’s jammer rotation running into early penalty trouble, travel team rookie, Kookie Doe, is given her first opportunity with the star. Her lead status and 4-point pickup ends a run of 45 straight points scored by Ohio and suddenly CN Power is back in it. Everything seems to be coming back together again for the home team. Tara Part and Nasher the Smasher are putting in their usual performances, and on the other lines Panty Hoser and Lady Gagya are playing well. With four minutes remaining in the half, Ohio is up by one point 57-56. The small group of ToRDies I am sitting with is antsy and vocal. Unfazed, Ohio never strays very far from their simple, fast game and win the final two jams to lead 69-56 at the half.
I’m not able to watch the second half. At this point The Bruisers and I walk away to prepare for our debut that will follow. Watching the CN Power game has been stressful: high heart rate, bitten nails, tension-yells that echo off the walls of the empty Bunker, but as I leave Track 1 to join the team on Track 2 (the warm-up track), I feel a calmness fall over me.
I experience the second half of the CN Power game from this vantage point. I can see the score, flashes of skaters rounding turn one; I can hear the whistle of the refs, the bursts of noise from the benches, the few in attendance. I can see that things aren’t going well for CN Power. 12 minutes in, CN Power has been outscored 30-5. It’s 104-61 at the halfway point. That’s when I notice Bambi being led away with her arm in a brace (it’s broken); see Aston Martini on the sidelines with her arm back in a sling, having reaggravated a recurring injury. Suddenly, with lines in disarray and people in positions they aren’t used to, CN Power can no longer compete with a team of the quality and endurance of Ohio. They pounce and are merciless in their taking advantage of the shaken team and they dominate the second half. It is the case of a very, very experienced team taking complete advantage of a comparatively inexperienced team caught up in a moment of adversity. They distance themselves from the challengers and win definitively 197-91.
The Bay Street Bruisers take to the track following this, facing off against a Gang Green that features six of the skaters who have just defeated our A Team (including the smooth skating Outa My Wayman). The Bruisers, though, are completely focused. I personally feel infinitely more calm on the bench in the midst of a game than I was on the sidelines watching, though memories of the Gang Green vs. Plan B bout from the night before linger. We weather some early game penalty troubles, stick to the plan and play our game, trying to match Ohio’s masterful simplicity with our own brand of straight-ahead flat track roller derby. We are down 86-42 at the half.
Led by our calm, consistent captain/pivots Chronic and Downright Dirty Dawson, the Bruisers don’t play a perfect game by any means, but play as perfectly as one could expect from a team in its first game together. There are moments when things unravel, but every time we are able to reel it in and get control. In the end we fall 173-109, but it is a pleasing performance nonetheless; an outstanding first game laying a strong foundation for the future.
And in the end, despite the losses, that is what the true importance of this weekend was for Toronto Roller Derby: an opportunity to lay a foundation for the future. While ToRD and Ohio had very similar beginnings, their league narratives have diverged. Both offer differing, but potentially equal models to follow for teams who choose the WFTDA path (while this does not necessarily mean a competitive one, for the most part, the decision to join WFTDA is usually coupled with a desire to increased the competitive level of a league). In a very big way, Ohio has shortened its bench, so to speak, doing away with home teams to focus on travel teams exclusively; and even then, Gang Green has a core of secondary skaters who are surrounded by A-team skaters whenever they play. It is an almost ascetic approach to the game. Stripped away to a core, for the past two years all that Ohio has done has been to travel and play: a single-minded focus on getting game experience, building endurance. They’ve gotten to the point where they act in unison without the slightest communication; they have an instant counter-strategy for every situation they encounter on the track because they’ve seen it all. It’s worked for them. At this pace they will easily make the Regional playoffs and by the time that rolls around in the fall, they will undoubtedly be ready to compete.
ToRD has taken a different approach. And while it should yield the same results in the long run, it is a model that requires patience and foresight. ToRD has a “feeder” model in place, that sees skaters who complete Fresh Meat join the D-VAS, essentially a C travel team that competes with younger leagues around the province (we’re lucky to live in a region where three levels of travel teams can coexist quite comfortably); the four hometeams then draft the D-VAS onto their rosters where they can try out for the Bruisers, and eventually work their way up to CN Power.
On Sunday, for one half anyway, CN Power looked like a team ready to compete at the highest level, or at least at the level of the Regional playoffs. But the second half showed that CN Power needs two things before that can become a reality: depth and experience. It’s off to a good start this season with experience gained from playing seven games already. The success of the Bay Street Bruisers shows that the gap between the hometeams and the A team has been filled and that given time, important depth is on its way to the top squad.