For the second year in a row, the New Skids on the Block host CN Power on the eve of the Beast of the East.
184, 263, 89, 17.
These are the point differentials from the four times that Montreal’s New Skids on the Block and Toronto’s CN Power have met since 2010. After the peak 284-21 win for the Skids at the 2011 Quad City Chaos, the gap has been narrowing; with that narrowing becoming all the more dramatic over the past year since the two faced off on the eve of last year’s Beast of the East.
By all metrics, this gap should narrow even more on the track at Arena St. Louis on Friday night, in what promises to be an electric atmosphere.
One thing you can be sure of is that Montreal will show up ready. Aside from a surprising blip at last year’s playoffs where a lacklustre performance blew a clear road to Champs, the Skids have been Canada’s most consistent and durable performers. And when it comes to those rare face offs against Canadian competition, they seem to always enter hungry for a victory. Never was this more evident than while repelling a ferocious Toronto attack at last month’s Quad City Chaos.
And at this stage in their development, this seems to be the last barrier of separation between Toronto and the other elite teams of the WFTDA’s Division 1: consistency, and the focus that this consistency requires.
After a reputation-building performance at last year’s playoffs, Toronto seemed to grow from the experience, kicking off 2014 with lopsided victories over formerly close opponents in Killamazoo and Bleeding Heartland before pushing Montreal to the very limits of their considerable abilities and experience in the thrilling 17-point loss on their home track in Toronto. But then everything seemed to change at halftime of another anticipated QCC matchup against a rebuilding Ohio team.
Taking an impressive 30-point lead into the break, it was a tale of two teams in the second half as Toronto came out loose, unfocused and unprepared for the brutal onslaught that a stone-faced and determined Ohio team unleashed. The considerably more experienced skaters from Columbus gave Toronto a swift lesson in the level of discipline and focus needed to compete at the WFTDA’s highest level on a consistent basis; by the time Toronto came around in the period (after a 97-14 Ohio run to start the second half), the game was already out of reach.
Nonetheless, it was a strong showing against a higher ranked opponent and Toronto had to have high expectations heading into London’s Anarchy in the UK, sporting a franchise-high rank of 13th. CN Power instead looked woefully out of place, suffering the most lopsided loss in their history (477-41 to London) before falling to Detroit, a team ranked 21-spots below them who had come into the tournament desperate to improve their lot and secure their perilous spot in the top Division; the win over Toronto guaranteed that.
It was a Toronto team that looked far removed from the one that had taken Atlanta to the limits on the biggest stage only six months prior.
The Skids don’t have as big a sample size on which be judged so far in 2014, but from what little we have seen, they seem to have learned from their so-so performance at Divisionals. Indeed, the Montreal team that showed up at QCC ’14 was the hungriest, most focused Skids team that I’ve seen in quite some time. Their thoroughly (almost shockingly) dominant win over Ohio (the very team that ended their shot at Champs in last year’s playoffs) was impressive to say the least. And the poise that they showed in repelling Toronto was evidence of their considerable experience playing at this elite level. Those hours on the track against the best this game has to offer were the difference. And as far as Toronto has come, they simply have yet to clock that all-important track time.
However, Toronto has bounced back from inconsistency before. It’s easy to forget that at the QCC ’13 Toronto lost to a Rideau Valley team that was (at the time) 30+ spots below them in the rankings. They built off of that learning experience, and used it to propel them to the D-1 playoffs. They will need to do so again this season with the Anarchy performance. They’ve got a tough schedule ahead of them, and while they need to learn from their losses, they simply don’t have time to dwell on them.
There won’t be much change in rosters from QCC to this game (Toronto jammer Rainbow Fight remains on injury reserve after suffering a serious internal injury against Killamazoo); however, Nasher the Smasher draws back into the pack and this could make a considerable difference for Toronto (she was named team MVP at Anarchy); a truly elite player, her on-track leadership will be a boon for Toronto.
Montreal seemed to answer the Iron Wench question (that question being “How do you replace the greatest jammer our country has ever seen?”) by showing considerable depth at the position, relying on a mix of vets and “rookies.” The supremely talented Miracle Whips has all the potential to be a top-level jammer, but is still prone to the kinds of mistakes that experience has a way of correcting.
A year ago nearly to the day, these two teams played an unbelievably exciting half of roller derby in front of one of the most appreciative and electric crowds I’ve seen for this sport in this country. Toronto seemed overwhelmed by the moment and faded in the second half. This year, however, Toronto has shown that at their best, they are ready for the spotlight. The question remains: Is Montreal willing to share it?
**The game will be streamed live by CUTV. Tune in to mtlrollerderby.com beginning at 6:50 PM on Friday, April 25th.