Toronto Roller Derby’s CN Power continued the compelling international story at the 2013 WFTDA playoffs tangling with Melbourne, Australia’s, Victorian Roller Derby in the fifth place game at the final divisional tournament. Although CN Power ran out of steam in the second half of the game, the narrative for the weekend had already been set. It began with a major upset over Sacred City on Friday, followed by a stunning game against perennial powerhouse Atlanta before another tough upset over Boston assured Toronto of a surprising top six finish.
It was yet another remarkable finish for one of the three Canadian teams in WFTDA’s Division 1, and arguably, the best performance by a Canadian team at this year’s Big Five. Montreal finished 4th in their division, but did so mostly based on a fairly clear path to the final four on account of their 2nd seed in the tournament. Word on the track is that Montreal was probably closer to the 6th or even 7th best team in their division (with Rose City, at least, and even Arch Rival performing better than they did). Terminal City’s performance was also one for the ages: stunning upsets over Tampa and New Hampshire guaranteeing a three-spot jump on their ranking. But Toronto went one further with the win over Boston, and their performance in a loss against Atlanta was arguably the best game played by a Canadian team during this year’s playoffs.
It has been a remarkable turn around for Toronto this season, but one that has been coming for some time, and one that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise for the astute followers of the Canadian game. Over the past three years Toronto Roller Derby has worked hard to develop its base, and is now a league brimming with talent at every level. The farm team D-VAS has consistently finished in the final four of every Fresh and Furious tournament they have played in. Similarly, since a 2-3-4 finish at the 2011 Beast of the East, ToRD house league teams have been consistently near the top of that tournament as well, with at least one team in the top three in the last three years. Finally, ToRD’s travel B Team, the Bay Street Bruisers, have been turning heads as well, especially since a 2012 RDAC Eastern Championship tournament victory. They have gone 8-1 in 2013 against consistently solid competition on both sides of the border, are clearly the top B Team in the country, and have even earned a spot in the discussion of the top teams in the country.
So with such a strong and well-developed base propping it up, this CN Power turn around has been in the works.
After a somewhat inconsistent start to the year (for a example, a phenomenal performance in a loss to mighty Ohio was followed by a stunning upset loss to Rideau Valley at this year’s Quad City Chaos), CN Power slowly began to turn it around and build toward this weekend’s peak performance. Arguably, it all started with a thrilling showdown against rivals the New Skids on the Block in Montreal in April. A game that saw them compete for about 40 minutes, before the big-game experience of Montreal kicked in and the Skids pulled away late. That was followed by a tight game against another much higher ranked opponent in Cincinnati, and finally the playoff-clinching 2-point victory against Bleeding Heartland.
As a team, Toronto has flown under the radar for the past few seasons, lacking the visibility that Montreal and Vancouver have enjoyed, but after this weekend, it has to be believed that this will no longer be the case. Toronto’s depth pushed it to success this weekend, but there were outstanding individual performances as well. At the top of the heap were Nasher the Smasher and Dyna Hurtcha. Long one of Toronto’s top blockers, Nasher finally had a stage upon which to display her talents and she did not disappoint. A tireless workhorse all weekend, she averaged 31 jams per game (easily a team high) and despite all the track time (most coming in two losses) still finished with a +/- of +29. Prototypical Toronto triple threat Dyna Hurthca was also a phenom this weekend. A relentless blocker, she also showed her value to the team by jamming in certain situations, including in a tough second half against Victorian (in which she jammed 4 times, picked up two leads and averaged 2.3 points per jam).
Just below these stellar performances were those of Renny Rumble, BruiseBerry Pie and Jubilee. Bruisey was the go-to pivot for star passes in tough situations on the weekend and averaged 21 jams per game delivering some timely hits. Renny Rumble showed some extraordinary agility on defense and her eye for the track was obvious on the weekend. One of the keys to Toronto’s performance was its offense, and Jubilee, playing, arguably, the best derby of her career, was key on offense, reading situations well, and providing timely help when needed. Of course, the key to the success was in Toronto’s bench depth and ability to run out solid line after line (especially in the Atlanta game), a testament to the performances of all the blockers, led by Mega Bouche, Panty Hoser and double threat Candy Crossbones, who all put in significant track time on the weekend.
Speaking of depth, Toronto ran a fairly consistent four-jammer rotation all weekend, adjusting and filling in based on situation and opponent, and it was clearly led by a resurgent Bambi. A long-time ToRD veteran and still the houseleague’s all-time leading scorer, the home team success did not follow her to the travel team level early in her CN Power career. Last year, Bambi was beginning to look like a viable threat before a broken hand sustained in a game against Ohio held her back. There were no such setbacks in 2013, and she has steadily improved her game all season peaking, as the team did, at just the right time. She was easily the team’s most consistent jammer, putting up 258 points for the tournament (a 5.5 points per jam rate) with never more than 75 or less than 42 points in a game, and finished with a 50% lead percentage overall. Her footwork was phenomenal, and she used her size well, getting through the narrowest of gaps but also playing close to opposing blockers, avoiding hits and staying away from danger (important when you are virtually always the smallest skater on the track).
She did get help from the rest of the rotation at timely moments as well. Bala Reina had a hot and cold tournament: absolutely dominant against Sacred City (79 points, 6.2 points per jam, and a 62% lead percentage) and Boston (82, 6.8, 42%), she was completely neutralized against Atlanta, but bounced back against Victorian. Co-captain Dusty had her strongest game against Boston, where her jukey, scrappy style worked well (she has a knack for keeping her game in the middle of the track, avoiding the outside/inside lane drag backs that Boston was so proficient at). She led the team with a 56% lead percentage in that game and also managed 50 points (5.6 PPJ).
Despite running out of gas at the end against Melbourne (they led for much of the first half and went into the break tied at 75, but looked simply exhausted for much of the second half), it was nothing less than a phenomenal weekend for Toronto Roller Derby. Two major upsets and a team-defining performance against one of the sport’s best teams in Atlanta, topped off by a marquee international showdown with Australia’s top team, has put ToRD clearly into the roller derby spotlight, a spotlight that has often skipped over the city and its league. And, it should be noted, they did it while facing adversity as well, losing three skaters to injury in the week leading up to their departure for Divisionals (veteran blocker Rebel Rock-It, second-year jammer Kookie Doe, and long-time, on-track leader Tara Part).
During the last Team Canada tryouts, many felt that Toronto skaters were overlooked (I imagined an audible gasp could be heard from the east-coast derby community when Nasher the Smasher wasn’t even shortlisted); with another World Cup on the horizon and national team tryouts coming up, you get a feeling that won’t be happening again. It’s been a long road, but Toronto has finally arrived at the highest level of flat track roller derby.