Those who watched Toronto Roller Derby’s 2013 season opener on Saturday night were introduced to (and undoubtedly impressed by) a whole new crop of “rookie” skaters, only you have to use the term “rookie” lightly. In all, 23 new skaters donned their teams’ colours for the first time on the weekend, but of that crew, only three were true rookies, in that they had little to no bouting experience before the weekend. So while there was a considerable amount of fresh names and faces on the track, there was surprisingly little drop off in the level of talent. There are a few reasons behind that.
For starters, ToRD fans (and Canadian roller derby fans in general) know that this year the skaters on Toronto’s top WFTDA team, CN Power, left the home teams to focus solely on skating for the travel team (to considerable early season success). It left a wide gap in the teams’ rosters, pulling away core skaters, some of whom had played for their teams from the start of the league.
Secondly, the skaters who filled those gaps were largely products of ToRD’s farm system, the D-VAS (which is about two years old). In total 11 of the 23 rookies on Saturday night played on a D-VAS team that played seven games least year, not to mention took part in the annual Fresh and Furious tournament (finishing third). Some of the the games were home games (including an intersquad game to kick off the year), but also travel games as well, giving this batch of D-VAS a level of competitive experience unsurpassed in a ToRD draft. “Some of the rookies [on ToRD home teams in 2012] didn’t get to play as much as the D-VAS did,” said one of those D-VAS products, Mazel Tough—now a Smoke City Bettie—in a preseason interview.
And finally, nine of the 23 skaters on the track on Saturday were transfers of varying levels of experience, from World Cup skaters like Rainbow Fight (Canada) and Udre (Finland) to a skater like SewWhat? who has played in multiple leagues to a skater like Getcha Kicks who has been playing for a number of years and comes to ToRD with a solid on-track reputation in place. For these skaters, a lot of their decision making process on transferring was based on wanting to improve their level of play. “To have people around (me) better than (me) and pushing me to be better is really important to me,” said Betties rookie SewWhat?
The experience of these skaters means that unlike rookies of the past, they will be put into big roles early and often and expected to take on a lot of responsibility. Judging by the performances on the weekend, these skaters are relishing the role. “I’m excited to develop my game (as a jammer) and to get a lot of play time because there is a lack of jammers on the team,” said D-VAS product Lexi Con, who led the offense for the Gores in the opener.
“Whatever they need me to play, I’ll do it,” said debut Doll Rainbow Fight talking about being a potential triple threat in a long line of Dolls triple threats such as former Dolls captains Betty Bomber and Panty Hoser (both now playing for CN Power). This level of confidence in ability and in being able to perform an immediate role, bodes well for the future of not only the house league, but of the league in general.“I like to do a bit of everything,” said new Bettie LowBlowPalooza, echoing Rainbow’s sentiment. “I like pivoting,” she said with a confidence that many rookies in different situations wouldn’t be able to back up.
The games on Saturday night showed that the supposed rebuilding that will take place this year will be a different sort than those rebuilds seen in the past (such as when the original Betties roster imploded following the 2009 season beginning a rebuild that really only ended last season). The transfers like Chevy Chase Her (who led the Chicks in scoring), Canadian Psycho (Dolls), and Tomy Knockers (Betties) had immediate impacts on their teams, while the D-VAS graduates like Lexi Con, LowBlowPalooza, Purple Pain (Gores) and Chicks Ahoy!’s Smack Mia Round (who seems to have finally shaken off the injury bug long enough to begin to reach her potential of being a solid, impactful blocker) also took on big roles early. But even the recruits of the most recent fresh mean class fared well, with Emraged fitting into the pack surprisingly well on the Chicks, and the Gores feeling comfortable enough to dress two pure rookies (Full Deck and Cirque du So-Laid).
The house league captains are well aware of the impact that these skaters are having on the teams. Gores co captain Santa Muerta pointed out how much easier it has been to train: “We get to skate next week and work on team integration and not so much picking up basic skills,” she said after the draft, citing the exceptional level of the new skaters. Dolls co-captain Scarcasm knows the impact will be felt all across the league, “I think it’s an exciting year for ToRD; it’s going to push everyone a little bit further and harder.”
** Next up for ToRD is the 4th Annual Quad City Chaos, a WFTDA Sanctioned tournament with CN Power (and the Bay Street Bruisers) hosting teams from Ohio Rollergirls, Queen City Roller Girls, and Rideau Valley Roller Girls. Weekend passes, day passes and even individual tickets for Saturday night prime time game are available.