For the first time in four years, four Toronto houseleague teams played in a double header. In what has been the closest ToRD regular season in years, it came down to these two games to determine the 2012 playoff order with every team having a chance to qualify. While the Chicks Ahoy! entered the night as the clear front runners to take over top spot and earn the bye to the Battle for the Boot, the other two places were up for grabs. The Death Track Dolls kept up with the champs for one half, in the end, but they didn’t have an answer to the poise and consistency of the Chicks. The resurgent Smoke City Betties, on the other hand, completely overwhelmed an underhanded Gore-Gore Rollergirls pushing the three-time champs to the brink of what would have been a shocking elimination.
The first half of each game was a tale of two bouts: The Dolls came out a little tight and were punished early. Major penalties to Dolls’ jammers Bellefast and Santilly In Yo Face and the subsequent scramble to defend them, had the Dolls down 28-0 six minutes into what looked like was going to be a long night. But when Bellfast finally did put up 4 points for the Dolls, the team started rolling. Audrey Hellborn (playing her first ToRD home game in almost two years) and Betty Bomber followed that to give the Dolls three leads and scoring passes in a row and to narrow the score to 28-12. While Bala Reina ended the streak on the subsequent jam, the Dolls finally looked like they had woken up. Their packwork was tight and together (rookie Scarcasm had a monster game in the pack), and at the halfway point of the first were still well within reach, down 40-20.
The Gores came into the game down a star jammer (Bambi) and with a pack so depleted by injury and retirement, that D-VAS were called up for some of their first homeleague action (Viktory Lapp, Purple Pain and Mean Streak dressed, while Wacked Her and Getcha Kicks were alts.). The Betties came into the game with a poise and confidence not seen by the Black and Blue skaters since 2009. With a serious lack of depth at jammer, the team looked to Dust Bunny to carry the offense, and in the early going that is just what she did. Led by some fantastic pack work from the Gores, things were tight early with consecutive 0-0 jams. As the Gores slowly inched ahead, the Betties packs were seeming to tighten up. Rookie jammer Slaptrick Swayze finally got things rolling offensively for the Betties (jamming against long-time blocking veteran Kandy Bar). On the back of some strong blocking from Foxy Sinatra and Junkie Jenny, the Gores were up 16-4 eight minutes in. But it seemed precarious, and the Betties never lost that determination. Nearing the ten minute mark, they finally blew the game open. Mia Culprit pivoted Mouth of the South and Platinum Bomb with some dominating blocking against Gores’ jammer Draculaura and the Betties took their first lead of the game 24-16. Lady Scorcher and Sin D Drop-Her continued the stifling pack work on the subsequent jam as Swayze picked up 4 more points to extend the lead. The Betties were just starting to find that confidence that they’d been searching for for so long and were up 16, 36-20, at the halfway point of the first.
With the Dolls and Chicks game getting physical in the later stages of the first half, the Dolls actually didn’t balk against the harder hitting Chicks and kept crawling their way back into it. Santilly had arguably her strongest game ever (fast, but also much more able to absorb hits and slightly less risk-averse on the inside line—she did, though, commit two majors on cuts). The offense by committee that the Dolls have gone with this year was played slightly more conservatively (Santilly, Bellefast and Audrey took on much of the load with Bomber and Panty Hoser filling in). After the struggles of the first five minutes, the Dolls actually controlled much of the play of the first half and a timeout to ensure one last jam (that went their way) actually had the Dolls outscoring the Chicks 40-37 in the final twenty-four minutes of the half, to be within reach 65-40 at the break.
While the Betties were pouring it on as the half wore on and the depth of the team was starting to overwhelm the Gores (the Betties were rotating excellent, balanced lines), they couldn’t quite pull away. Every time they threatened to do so, Dust Bunny would get on the track get lead and put up points. But with the score 61-24 with eight minutes left, the night pretty much ended for the Gores when Dust Bunny went down awkwardly on Turn Three, twisting her knee, ending her night and, essentially, the Gores’ chances of a comeback. This gave D-VAS Viktory Lapp an opportunity to pick up some track time with the star and she was welcomed with a series of massive jammer take outs in quick succession from Laya Beaton, Mia Culprit, Renny Rumble and finally Platinum Bomb. To scale, it was a display of the dominant performance that saw the Betties take a significant 88-36 lead at the half.
While the first half had ended optimistically for the Dolls, in the second the Chicks Ahoy! showed why they are champions. With their backs against the wall, the Chicks stormed out for the second half and outscored the Dolls 25-11 over the first ten minutes and 54-20 over the first 20 to steadily distance themselves from their rivals. The jammer rotation of Candy Crossbones, Bala Reina and Kookie Doe was simply too experienced and consistent for the Dolls, never letting the packs have an easy jam (they gave up only one power jam, but it was late in the game well after victory was already out of reach). Despite the loss, the Dolls had some outstanding individual play from Santilly, Scarcasm and triple threat Betty Bomber who was a calm, collected presence particularly with the stripe. Audrey Hellborn’s return (She closed out the game on a positive note getting lead and duelling with Chicks’ blocker Marmighty) also bodes well for the future. But the time is now for this Chicks team who wrapped up first overall with the 170-71 victory.
Although their fate was essentially sealed at the half, the Gores nonetheless came out fighting in the second and saw some big individual efforts from key players. Foxy Sinatra stepped up and had her best game in years, hitting hard but also playing smart and keeping her team in it. After Dust Bunny’s injury, veteran blocker Chronic joined the rotation and actually had a fairly successful night with the star (she picked up lead on her first two jams) joining other blockers like Molly Boom and Kandy Barr who were forced into action despite little-to-no experience jamming. Despite the heroics, the Betties completely controlled things in the second half. While the certainty of a Betties victory meant the Dolls were initially eliminated (due to their loss to the Gores), as the game stretched on, the score differential grew to such that the Gores could have been eliminated; but in the end the 142 point loss (192-50) was just enough (by only 8 points) to earn them a playoff spot and eliminate the Dolls on a team plus/minus tie breaker.
While aside from the Chicks, the Dolls may have been the most consistent team start to finish in ToRD this season, their 99-point loss to the defending champs was just a little too much, and for the first time since 2009, the Dolls find themselves on the bottom of the four team league. The Gores, by the skin of their teeth, live to fight one more day, while for the Betties, it was the tale of a team. A team finally coming together after years of building. The Betties provide the model that patience, hard work and, most importantly, teamwork can come together to lead a team from the bottom all the way to, well, near the top anyway. But for the first time in three years they’ve earned themselves a playoff spot and have given themselves an opportunity to finish that journey.
***Toronto Roller Derby and Pride Toronto will once again be collaborating on the Clam Slam, an all-queer, all-star bout featuring players from Eastern Canada (and beyond!). Stay tuned to torontorollerderby.com for details.
***I’d like to give a special shout out to Toronto Junior Roller Derby who was on hand for an exhibition scrimmage. I had the pleasure of calling the game. They will be heading to New York for a tournament on August 11.