It’s been a long and winding few years for Durham Region Roller Derby, but after two successful seasons capped off this weekend by hosting the second annual Gibson’s Cup, things seem to be sailing smoothly for the league. Further proof of the league’s strength is the subtle shift in power that occurred when the 2011 champion Motor City couldn’t hold off the upstart Smashers to defend their championship on Saturday night. Having two strong home teams trading off intraleague dominance bodes well for the future of the league. And with both teams missing key skaters, others were able to step up and skate a lap in the spotlight, further strengthening the base. In the end, the Atom Smashers were able to secure a definitive win and erase the painful memories of last year’s 145-114 loss.
The defending champion Motor City Madames came into the championship game as the heavy favourites. Despite starting the year with an 0-2 performance at Montreal’s annual Beast of the East, the losses came to much more experienced teams from Hammer City and Toronto and proved to be an invaluable experience for the young skaters from Durham. They’d take this experience with them through a successful summer of derby. Tight results early built the resolve of this team as they squeaked out victories over Royal City’s top hometeam Our Ladies of Pain (134-130) and the Renegade Derby Dames B-Travel Team the Bombshell Battalion (131-125). They completed an unbeaten regulation season with a dominant 207-102 victory over Peterborough Roller Derby.
The Atom Smashers had a much less straight-forward season, going 2-2 and featuring inconsistent results that had many wondering if they’d be able to pull it all together for the championship. Opening with a 174-143 loss to Royal City’s Killer Queens, they took out the frustrations from that game on Peterborough when they showed flashes of excellence, putting together an impressive offensive display in a 346-148 victory. They followed this up with a much tighter, hard-fought win against Greater Sudbury’s Tatas (114-108), proving that they could put a close game away as well. Although their regulation season ended with a 202-186 loss, it was to GTA Rollergirls A-Travel Team, the G-sTARs. In retrospect, it was a tight loss to a solid team that should have been an indicator of how far this Smasher’s team had come in 2012.
If there were lingering doubts about the rise of the Smashers, they were quickly put to rest at the outset of the game, as they burst out to a quick lead. The Motor City Madames held on tight from the start, but it was clear that they were playing keep-up. Lead by primary pivots Amefyst and Eva Bangoria, the Atom Smashers pack was clearly tighter in the early going and had the Motor City pack spread and often scrambling. Taking the first power jam of the game, the Smashers put together an impressive run, holding the Madames at 5 points for over ten minutes at one point before they were able to put another 4 points on the board; but at that point the damage may have been done as the Atom Smashers held a 70-9 lead with only twelve minutes left in the half.
With key jammers out of the line up on both sides, the teams kept to tight jammer rotations. The Atom Smasher’s offense was anchored by 12 Gage and Betty FugetaBOUTit and supported by up-and-comer Young Blood, and they dominated the lead percentage, giving them complete control of the jams. Not that Motor City jammers Dar Mean, Cutsie Bootsie and Blood Muffin (who had the most success for the Madames on this night) were having off nights (though Cutsie Bootsie seemed susceptible to having penalties drawn on her)—they often managed to complete their initial pass before getting scored on—they just didn’t have the open lanes that their counterparts on the Smashers had, and often found themselves trying to desperately make up a lot of track. A late attempt at a push back was squashed by a series of power jams that saw the Smashers open up a nearly 100-point lead, 128-35, at the half.
The Madames are defending champs for a reason though, and they came out ready for the second half. Putting together their best run of the game, Motor City began the long climb back into this one with some disciplined play and improved pack work. Outscoring the Smashers 79-62 over the opening fifteen minutes of the second half to pull close at 190-114, a tendency for one-on-one play would creep back into their game, allowing the Smashers’ pack to maintain relative control over the way things played out. While the second half was rife with penalties, it was the Madames who bore the brunt of it. Often isolated on the track, the Motor City blockers were often forced into desperate hits or out-of-play lunges that created a steady stream to the penalty box and lead to a near constant pack advantage for the Smashers. Typically strong pivots Karma Screwya and Slamureye (who finished the game with six majors and was on the verge of fouling out) were neutralized with penalties, and although there were valiant efforts to keep things together by skaters like Mozilla and The Piecemaker, they could never quite pull themselves out of the troubles.
And the Atom Smashers took clear advantage. Executing well on power jams and mostly remaining disciplined, the Smashers played a complete and consistent game, so much so, that the outcome was never really in doubt. Although there was strong individual play from blockers (Rekker Roxy was another stand out and was eventually awarded team MVP), it was the togetherness of the Atom Smashers’ packs that proved to be the difference. Staying together kept them out of penalty trouble but also protected them from potentially devastating hits, and allowed them to control the pace of the game and, just as importantly, the formation of the packs. In the end it proved to be a definitive 107 point victory for the Smashers, securing them their first Gibson’s Cup.