For the vast majority of their third attempt at winning Toronto Roller Derby’s championship it seemed as if the Smoke City Betties were destined to suffer the same fate that had befallen them on their first two attempts. For 51 minutes, the game and the coveted Boot both seemed out of reach.
Until suddenly, it wasn’t.
In the end, Toronto’s oldest flat track roller derby team managed to find some deep reserve of desire that fueled a thrilling late-game comeback, stunning eight-time finalists (and three-time champions) the Gore-Gore Rollergirls, 171-140, in what many immediately declared to be the most satisfying Battle for the Boot in league history.
It is true that ToRD’s championship game has often been a letdown. Adjusting for style of game play, it is easy to argue that between 2009 (when the Betties lost to the Gores 129-88) and 2013 (when the Betties were on the losing end of record-setting 258-73 defeat to the Death Track Dolls), every championship game was a blowout. Even last year’s 184-139 showdown between the Dolls and Gores, while not a blowout by any means, was never really in question as the Dolls led from start to finish. But in a year of league parity (at least between the top three teams), it should really have come as no surprise that this championship game delivered.
The game actually got off to an inauspicious start for the Betties, who, despite playing two playoff games over the last month, seemed the less prepared of the two teams. Behind some incredible defensive blocking, all four of the Gores’ primary jammers (Lumberjack Flash, Lexi Con, Beaver Mansbridge and Taranosaurus Rex) nabbed lead jammer status in their initial jams, eventually taking five of the opening six (which included a power jam) to take a commanding 28-3 lead.
Unfazed, the Betties roared back and flipped the board on the Gores, taking seven of the next ten leads to get back in it, yet still found themselves down 51-34 with ten minutes to play in the opening period.
The Gores got a fantastic opening half from jammer Lexi Con, who played, arguably, her best half of the season, and at the break led her team—and the game—in scoring (38 points) and lead percentage (87% over seven jams). However, on the Betties’ side of the score sheet, an interesting story was developing: after a slow start, ToRD’s second leading scoring in the regular season, Smoka Cola, seemed to be just getting warmed up: the first-year transfer nabbed lead in three of her final four jams scoring 28 of her 29 points over that stretch, while helping the Betties to get close at the break, down 89-67 at the half.
The Gores had managed to hold their half-time lead by grabbing the final three lead jammer statuses and that momentum followed them into the second period. Although lead jammer status was about equal over the opening ten minutes, the Gores maintained clear control, getting phenomenal blocking from veteran Santa Muerte, while Jill ‘Em All (who returned to the Gores after a two-year hiatus to focus on the CN Power) led an, at times, devastating line along with Chronc, Gamma Rei and Emma Dilemma. One-third of the way through the second period and it seemed as if the Gores were in complete control: they used three power jams to build a substantial 30-point lead, 126-96.
But then, the game changed.
Led by some stand-out performances from across the board—including veterans, rookies, and transfers—the Betties slowly began to chip away. Heavy defense from Tushy Galore and Honey Boom Boom (who was outstanding in the game, playing perhaps the best derby of her career), was complemented by the calm on-track presence of rookie Fight of the Conchords, on-point line leadership from SewWhat?, and an increasingly larger role for first-year transfer AnneBulance. Six-straight lead jammers for the Betties anchored a series of ten consecutive jams where the Gores were held off the board, and after an incredible 14-point pick up from long-time Bettie titmouse (she finished with 41 points), the Betties found themselves within three—as close as they’d been since the opening whistle.
A Gores’ timeout did nothing to stop the Betties’ momentum, and when it was all said and done, a 64-0, ten jam run of complete dominance saw the Betties take their first lead of the game with nine minutes left to go; it was a run that sealed the Gores’ fate.
In terms of offense, the story of the second half was Smoka Cola. After a strong first period, Smoka was simply unstoppable in the second: 100% lead percentage (seven for seven) and 50 points. At one point in the game-changing ten jam run, she even went back to back (grabbing lead on both), but it was a late power jam (the Betties’ second and final of the half) that sealed the deal.
After getting back-to-back leads, the Gores handed the star to Santa Muerte, who’d been somewhat of a secret weapon this season (in limited regular season action with the star she’d managed 3.7 points per jam and a remarkable 75% lead percentage). Unfortunately this time, matched up against Smoka Cola, it backfired. Drawing a cut, the Betties and Smoka Cola punished the Gores for 18 points (even with excellent penalty killing from Viktoty Lapp, Moose Knuckles and Miss Kitty La Peur).
Despite a frantic push at the end (they would take lead in four of the final five jams, led by some fantastic jamming from Beaver Mansbridge, who eventually led the Gores in scoring—50—and lead percentage—50%), the Betties retained control of the scoreboard and held off the Gores for the 29-point win.
This win was a long-time coming for the Betties, who were the last team to have their name engraved on the Boot, and in particular for those longest-serving skaters (Tushy Galore, titmouse, and Genuine Risk were three of twelve rookies on the team in a challenging 2010 season), and with a strong core in the place, this could just be the start of something special.
**The Battle for the Boot was broadcast on Rogers TV; check local listings for rebroadcast, with the evening of June 13 the likely first rebroadcast. And, of course, layer9.ca was trackside to capture all of the action. You can watch his footage here.
**Next up for flat track roller derby fans in the city is the Pride-affiliated 2015 U-Haul Brawl at Ted Reeve Arena on Thursday, June 25th).