Montreal’s New Skids on the Block came into the opening weekend of the 2013 WFTDA playoffs with high hopes and the high seeding to match. Under the WFTDA’s new playoff seeding system, the Divisional groupings had teams much more evenly distributed than ever before, seeing traditional powerhouses like Rose City (5th) and scrappy upstarts like Wasatch (7th) given challenging seedings. It was made clear early on that Denver was the cream of this crop, while last year’s fan favourites Ohio finally put it all together to advance to the Championship tournament. Montreal, on the other hand, struggled throughout, never seeming to get it all together for a complete game, finishing fourth after a loss to their playoff rivals, London, who became the first international team to qualify for the WFTDA Championship tournament.
Gaining a bye to the quarterfinals, Montreal opened against a Wasatch team that had been forced to play a qualifying game earlier in the day (a one-sided win over Grand Raggidy). Facing a history of three-straight Friday losses in the playoffs, Montreal hoped to turn things around against the team from Salt Lake City. However, it was Wasatch who stormed out of the gates and had Montreal scrambling for almost the entire first half. Multiple early jammer penalties to Mel E Juana and Lil Mama (which would become a huge problem during the tournament) had Montreal in a deep hole early. However, it was uncharacteristically loose packs that were truly the Skids undoing. Although the trio of Jess Bandit, Surgical Strike (often joined by vet Rae Volver) provided the most consistent pack of the night for the Skids, for the most part, Wasatch’s relentless blockers easily won the pack battles.
Nonetheless, the experienced and playoff-hardened Montreal skaters held it together in the second half and once they had a lead (they took their second and final lead with 14 minutes remaining in the half), were able to maintain it and hold off a weakening Wasatch attack. The 188-159 victory propelled Montreal into the final four, guaranteeing the Skids their highest finish in a tournament, and giving them two shots at a Championship berth.
Unfortunately, it was a similar story against Ohio in the second game. Inconsistent jamming and loose pack work (there were some awkward formation decisions, especially on power kills) gave Ohio the early lead, one they would not relinquish throughout. Heavy penalty troubles kept Montreal packs small and inconsistent, leaving the Skids unable to stick with any sort of consistent lines. The jamming was inconsistent as well, with Mel E Juana following strong jams with penalty-filled ones, a more conservative Greta Bobo struggling to pick up leads, and even the indefatigable Iron Wench committing a handful of penalties.
Ohio, on the other hand, came into the tournament more prepared than they ever have been before. Last year, the skaters from Columbus seemed burned out by the time they reached Regionals, and with a lighter regular-season load in 2013, they were fresher and sharper than ever and controlled Montreal completely in the first half.
While Montreal tightened things up in the second, they were unable to complete the comeback. At about the midway point of the second, they were within striking distance and playing their best derby of the game, but they couldn’t draw Ohio into the kind of mistakes they needed to. Also uncharacteristically, Montreal seemed resigned to the loss over the last five or six minutes (despite finally getting leads consistently and being within the 40-50 point range) letting the clock run down and leaving two timeouts and an official review on the board, perhaps saving themselves for what they knew would be a tough, third-place bout.
The third place game marked the third straight season that Montreal and London would meet in the WFTDA playoffs (add to that an Anarchy in the UK showdown, and this matchup counts as London’s biggest rivalry), but it would not have the drama of the others. London was clearly playing the best derby of the team’s history on the weekend, having the wherewithal to withstand Rose City’s relentless push and defeat them in the quarterfinals, but also to stick with Denver (defending WFTDA third-place team, and a valid contender this season) in their semi-final.
Montreal’s Skids certainly played their best game of the weekend in the third-place bout, but they trailed virtually the whole game, and despite a few pushbacks, were never able to get within 80 points in the second half, untimely jammer penalties once again their undoing (although to the jammers’ credit, they were often drawn due to depleted packs). The win meant that London has become the first international team to qualify for the WFTDA Championship tournament joining Ohio and Denver from this Division (Denver took down Ohio in the final). Montreal’s fourth place finish, was their best ever at a playoff tournament as well. And it was fitting that the most experienced international playoff teams played in that deciding bout, a matchup that seemed almost destined to happen.
Although Montreal is out, for the first time ever, Canada can keep cheering at the WFTDA playoffs! Next weekend, in the second Divisional tournament, Vancouver’s Terminal City All Stars will be heading to Richmond, Virginia, where they will open the tournament against Tampa Roller Derby at 12:00 PM on Friday.