If you look closely enough at the podium finishes in the Beast of the East’s eight-year history, you can read in them the history of flat track roller derby in eastern Canada. From Hamilton’s early leadership (the Harlots won the inaugural tournament) through to the rise of Montreal’s dominance (for two years, 2009-10, Montreal finished 1-2-3 with relative ease); then on to the WFTDA era and the New Skids push toward Champs that saw them give over the home teams to a new generation of skaters and allowed leagues like Toronto and Rideau Valley to take control of the Beast. And eventually, Roller Derby Quebec’s competitive rise was captured in Casse-Gueules’ back-to-back finals including last year’s against their RDQ leaguemates Rouge et Gore.
But the BOE has existed long enough and been host to so many myth-making moments that the tournament’s history is rich on its own. La Racaille’s five podium finishes (one win, three runner ups, and a third pace finish) is a record, and a consistency that is reflected in their record-holding 26 tournament wins. Along with Les Filles du Roi (23) and Rideau Valley’s Slaughter Daughters (20), they are the only teams to have compiled over 20 wins in the event. It’s likely that Les Contrabanditas (19) will join them this year and an inspired run could see ToRD’s Gore-Gore Rollergirls reach that feat as well (they currently sit on 17).
The 20-win Slaughter Daughters, who’d first competed in the tournament as the Bytown Blackhearts, loaded with first generation Vixens went on one of the most incredible runs in BOE history: three straight finals framed by championships in 2011 and 2013 (they remain the only team to repeat as tournament champs and along with La Racaille, they only teams to reach three straight finals). Last year, they defied a league shakeup and provided one of the great stories of the 2015 tournament with an inspired run to the final four.
What you can also see in the history of the tournament is the evolution of the game itself. In the beginning games were fast-paced but unphysical; they were incredibly low scoring; for example, only two teams managed 60 points in 2008. In 2009 an awesome Gore-Gore Rollergirls managed the tournament’s first 100-point game. I t would happen once again the following year, then a few times in 2011 and it eventually became a regular feat. 150 points is the new 100: it’s happened only three times, with last years Daughters setting the new record with 164 points (they also set a record for biggest win, 164-2). Because of the rise in scoring, the safest record could be FDR’s 2010 tournament record for points against: 9. They won their two first-round games by a combined score of 207-13, never giving up more than 12 points in a game throughout (until the 30-minute final when they gave up 20 to La Racaille).
Despite annual blowouts (unavoidable given that the tournament features house league teams randomly selected and then randomly bracketed), the tournament has a tendency to deliver thrills as well. Last year there were two one-point games in the first round; in 2014 the quarterfinals had an average differential of only 12 points (including an overtime game) and the final was a 15-pointer (129-114) decided over two 20-minute halves; in 2011 the Slaughter Daughters won the Beast by two points after an epic last-jam comeback.
What has become standard, at least since 2010, is that the tournament is impossible to predict. Attempting to forecast the outcome is a bracket-busting exercise in futility. This year’s could be even more unpredictable than most given the five first timers (most ever) including representatives from two leagues competing for the first time: South Simcoe Rebel Roller’s Ghoul Guides and Hamilton Area Roller Derby’s Molotov Girls. The other newcomers are Royal City’s Violet Uprising (their Killer Queens participated in 2014) and Capital City’s Bacon Pirates and Cupquakes (the Beauty School Dropouts competed last year).
Quebec’s Casse-Gueules will be looking to become the third team to advance to three straight finals and given the experience that their roster has gained playing at the WFTDA level, that could be a possibility. 2014 champs, Toronto’s Gore-Gore Rollergirls are also in the midst of a strong ToRD season and could be looking to erase memories of a disappointing 2015 tournament. Rideau Valley always sends strong squads, with the Riot Squad returning this year to join the Daughters. And of course Montreal can never be overlooked. FDR had a third-place showing last year and should be strong again, but look out for La Racaille, recent winners of Montreal’s annual round-robin tournament. Most fans are as looking forward to the return of Iron Wench as they are the tournament itself. Wench was the offensive centrepiece of La Racaille’s three-straight finals appearances from 2008-2010 and has not appeared in the tournament since. She will be joined in her return to the Beast by another fan favourite, Montreal co-founder Trash N Smash, who will try to help Les Contrabanditas get that 20th victory (they are the only Montreal team never to win the Beast).
If I had to make a prediction (and I do because I’m a sucker for punishment), I’m going with the sentimental choice and picking La Racaille to take it, knocking off Casse-Gueules, who will reach their third-straight final. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the Daughters go on another spirited run (along with the Riot Squad) and for the Gore-Gore Rollergirls and Les Filles du Roi to be in the mix as well. The Venus Fly Tramps had a strong tournament least year and could return, at least, to Sunday’s quarterfinals. I expect the Rouge et Gore to round out that final eight. If you’re looking for a darkhorse, one of the Capital City squads could surprise, so might as well pick the Bacon Pirates (who had a strong 2015 season).
*Take a look back at the history of the Beast, including winners, records and every score of every game.
**Friday night will feature the now annual New Skids on the Block vs. Toronto All Stars showdown. However, the anticipation that had built over the past two seasons has dissipated somewhat as each team seems to be on the opposite trajectory. Last year these teams played in a 9-point thriller, but it should be the Skids with ease in 2016.