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The Long Road To Nashville: How the Rideau Valley Vixens Became Canada’s First Representative at the WFTDA Championship Tournament

The Rideau Valley Vixens get lead jammer during their 224-139 semi-final win against Gold Coast at 2014 WFTDA Division 2 playoffs. (Photo by Joe Mac)

The Rideau Valley Vixens get lead jammer during their 224-139 semi-final win against Gold Coast at the 2014 WFTDA Division 2 playoffs. (Photo by Joe Mac)

It’s March 2013, at The Bunker in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and the Rideau Valley Vixens are playing the hosts, Toronto’s CN Power, in the final game of the annual Quad City Chaos tournament. This is the fifth game between the two teams in three years, in what would have been a burgeoning rivalry had the games not all been so one-sided: Toronto had won all previous meetings by an average differential of 126 points.

There is under four minutes left on the clock and though Toronto has not run away with it as they have in previous bouts, they are up by 19 points and have led for the vast majority of the game. The Vixens have stuck with a very tight jammer rotation all weekend, barely veering from it, but suddenly Coach Adam Tasanko taps his blocker Jessica Kuehl on the helmet and hands her the star. A versatile skater, she has not jammed all game, rarely ever for the Vixens at this point, but it hardly seems to matter when the whistle blows. Lock down defense, physical jamming, 20 points and 90 seconds later and the Vixens have the lead. On another Coach’s hunch, a second blocker, Sister Disaster, is then sent out with the star to close out the game. She picks up lead and the Vixens hold on to win by 13 in what at the time would be characterized as the biggest upset in Canadian roller derby history.

While that win did not directly lead to the Vixens’ place in the 2014 WFTDA Division 2 Championship game (they didn’t even make the D2 playoffs in 2013), it was a definite and noticeable turning point. From that moment on, the team—from its long-serving and well-respected coach to its core of veteran and well-respected blockers—began to carry itself with a little more confidence, even a hint of swagger. An attitude well-earned, as it’s been a long road for the Vixens; full of obstacles and potholes, peaks and valleys, including its fair share of strife and heartbreak. But then, isn’t that what champions are made of?

In The Beginning

Roller derby is a pretty big deal in Ottawa. Despite its relatively small size (just under a million people), outside of Greater Toronto and British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, there is no region in the nation that has more active roller derby players than Canada’s capital. Spread out over three senior women’s leagues, a men’s team and a burgeoning junior program, during the spring and summer months, it’s easy to catch roller derby every weekend in the city. And while having multiple leagues is not generally conducive to on-track success (for every distinct roller derby league in a city there is probably at least one melodramatic email chain and a string of broken hearts to go with it), the Vixens have (eventually) made it work.

Roller derby in Ottawa began in late 2007, and the roots of the Vixens can be traced all the way back to a meeting at the Babylon, a hard-to-define nightclub/dive bar on Bank St. It was there that the first meeting of Ottawa Roller Derby (ORD) took place. Founded by Kelly McAlear (AKA: Honey Bee), within months the league had a team, the Bytown Blackhearts, and had struck up an integral friendship with Montreal Roller Derby, who at the time was the closest league to Ottawa.

By April 2008, the team was set to debut at the Montreal’s inaugural Beast of the East, a tournament featuring the fifteen house league teams in Ontario and Quebec at the time and filled out by Queen City’s Devil Dollies out of Buffalo. Now seen as a seminal event in the development of roller derby in the country, it would be baptism by fire for the Blackhearts who were drawn to face off against one of the co-hosts, Montreal’s La Racaille, in the opener. They would lose 65-29, but for a roster that contained many of the key early league stalwarts, including current Vixens members Hannah Murphy, Sister Disaster and Drunky Brewster, it sparked in them a lifelong love of the sport.

The Blackhearts had more success later that summer at the Virgin Suicides Brawl, a Toronto-based tournament hosted by the Greater Toronto Area Rollergirls and designed to feature new teams and inexperienced skaters (that has since been rebranded as the Fresh and the Furious). Advancing to the final, Ottawa squared off against Hammer City’s Death Row Dames and after a tense last jam, appeared to have won the tournament, only to have the win stricken down after a recounting of the scores. They lost by a single point.

Both of these early performances proved to be incredibly important team-building trips for the young team, and provided essential foundational development for the skaters. However, despite the on-track success, behind the scenes, things were tense at Ottawa Roller Derby. The early days of new roller derby leagues, existing as they do in a sport that especially in 2008 lacked consistent and reliable organizational precedents, can be tumultuous at times and there were rifts forming in the new league. Citing disagreements in organization (single-owner business vs. non profit) and competitive direction, in the fall of 2008, the Bytown Blackhearts walked away from Ottawa Roller Derby and established itself as an independent, not-for-profit roller derby team.

Roller Derby Returns to Ottawa

In a 2010 interview, Jerry Seltzer told the story of roller derby’s first foray into Ottawa in 1961. Only two years removed from taking over the reigns of roller derby from his father Leo, Jerry ventured north of the border in the winter of that year. He joked that it was on that trip that the first ever flat track game was played when the truck carrying the banked track froze in Sudbury and didn’t make it to Ottawa in time.

On January 31st, 2009, the first modern game of women’s flat track roller derby would be played in Ottawa, a full 48 years after the sport had first passed through the city. On that day, in front of a sold-out crowd, the newly independent Blackhearts would host Montreal’s very strong B-travel team, Les Sexpos, with a roster featuring some of the key figures in the eventual founding and development of Rideau Valley: DDT, Soul Rekker, Blackout Susan, Scotch Minx and Screaming Meanie Massacre all helped round out the roster that would lose that first game, 108-65. It proved a valuable learning experience, and when the team travelled to Vermont to play Green Mountain the following week, they won narrowly 136-131.

Rideau Valley Roller Girls LogoAs winter 2009 played out and the Blackhearts were preparing to return to Montreal for the second annual Beast of the East tournament, further strain and disagreements with ORD forced the Blackhearts to abandon their name. However, they were able to keep the logo and, undaunted, pushed forward. Within weeks a new league was born, the Rideau Valley Roller Girls, featuring the old Blackhearts logo: a roller girl with one hand on a cocked hip and the other thrusting a still-beating heart into the air—and its first team was named: The Slaughter Daughters.

Entering the Beast of the East in 2009, most eyes were on Montreal and Hammer City, the two leagues that had dominated the earliest days of Canadian Roller Derby, but three years in, the Canadian roller derby landscape had changed considerably at this point and the tournament also featured hopeful and up-and-coming leagues from Tri-City (Kitchener-Waterloo) and London, Ontario.

While ORD’s new team Capital Carnage would get eliminated early, the Slaughter Daughters would go on to be the breakout team of the tournament, trouncing Tri-City’s Venus Fly Tramps and Forest City’s Thames Fatales before taking Montreal’s heavily favoured (and eventual finalists) Les Contrabanditas to the limit in a three-point quarterfinal loss.

It would be a launching point for the new league and within months they’d named a second house league team (the Riot Squad) and began talks to form a distinct travel team, one that could play against the newly formed travel teams in Hammer City, Montreal and Toronto.

The Vixens Come out to Play

It was snowing heavily in Toronto on February 27th, 2010, but nonetheless, ToRD’s venue at the time, The Hangar, was packed for the team’s first game of the new season. Toronto’s CN Power was preparing for a big year, and to kick things off, they were facing the newest team on Canada’s competitive travel team circuit: The Rideau Valley Vixens. The Vixens were overwhelmed on that night against their big sisters from Toronto, getting beaten 199-49; nonetheless, the game represented a new era for roller derby in Ottawa and momentum would only build from there, even while yet another league, Capital City Derby Dolls, formed in the city.

For virtually the next two years the Vixens would slog it out primarily on the road, and between one-sided losses to vastly more experienced Canadian travel teams, they would gain hard-earned road victories against WFTDA B-teams and smaller US leagues like Ithaca, Central New York, and Morristown. It was a tough, hard road that every aspiring WFTDA team goes through early on. While some never make it out, many eventually learn to thrive on the adversity and the travel. The Vixens persevered.

In June 2012, two years after the team’s debut, the Vixens would play their first WFTDA-sanctioned game on the road against Central New York. It would be a narrow loss–9 points–but would typify some of the consistency problems that the team would have in its early days in the Association (they had defeated CNY only a year before). For example, the Vixens would crush Buffalo’s Queen City by 89 points, only to turn around and lose by virtually the same score to the same team five months later. Or the 2013 upset win over CN Power would be followed by a smothering loss to the less talented New Hampshire Roller Derby.

In all, the Vixens would play thirteen games in 2013, going 7-6 for the season (6-6 in sanctioned Play) finishing 68th in the WFTDA and just outside of the Division 2 playoffs. But there was undeniably a new, single-minded competitive focus on the team and in the league, starting with the desire for many of the skaters to begin playing under their real names (at least at the WFTDA level) and the formation of a B-level travel team (the Sirens) that would become a key breeding ground for future Vixens. Similarly, in the 2013 off-season a new home team would be formed (The Prime Sinisters) and all three rosters would be shaken up to help create parity at the house league level in hopes of raising the league’s competitive level as a whole.

The Vixens began the 2014 season with a pre-season, non-sanctioned game against Alliston, Ontario’s, Misfit Militia, largely considered Canada’s top non-WFTDA team, and they’d win the scrappy affair, kicking off a five-game WFTDA winning streak that would see them solidify their Division 2 Playoff spot. They’d end up 7-1 on the season (6-1 in sanctioned play to improve 21 spots in the ranking to 47th) with only a late-season upset loss to Calgary spoiling their perfect record—but the loss provided a healthy late-season shot in the arm to refocus them for the playoffs.

The team was drawn to play in the Kitchener-Waterloo D-2 tournament, and in August became the first Canadian team to play a WFTDA playoff game on home soil. And they did not disappoint.

In one of the closest playoff tournaments in the WFTDA’s history, the Rideau Valley Vixens would be the outliers, dominating their quarterfinal and semifinal games (the 89 and 105 point differentials were the two largest of the tournament—only two other games all weekend had differentials higher than 50). When they squared off against Bear City Roller Derby’s Berlin Bombshells in the final, they would be part of history as one half of the first ever all-international WFTDA tournament final. It would, of course, go down as one of the great tournament finals in history as well, when the Vixens were able to hold on to a narrow lead in a frantic and thrilling last jam, getting outscored 20-18, but holding on for the three-point win and a berth in the Division 2 final against the legendary Detroit Derby Girls.

To Nashville and Beyond!

In 2014 the Rideau Valley Roller Girls have emerged from a potentially fractious Ottawa flat track scene to become one of the nation’s most competitive and successful leagues.

They currently have five skaters on Team Ontario (Murphy, Bottema, Margaret Choke, Soul Rekker and Sister Disaster—not to mention that Brennan, H.P. Lovecrash, and Melanie Austin are alternates); also, Soul Rekker and Murphy have both been on the national squad since 2011. In 2014, the league had its first house league regular season and championship (won by the Prime Sinisters), while its B-team continued to develop and extended its travel to outside of Canada (into Ohio and New York State). This all coming off of the Slaughter Daughters’ three-year run as the top house league team in the Canadian derbyverse, a run that included three straight appearances in the Beast of the East final, two of which they won. And now, of course, they have qualified for the WFTDA D2 championship game.

This Vixen’s roster is one that is built to win, and built to win now. They play a short bench relying on a few carefully crafted lines, and stick to tight jammer rotations. For example, in their playoff tournament, the team travelled with only 12 skaters, three who exclusively jammed. Of the nine remaining, seven of them played between 46% and 60% of the total jams in the tournament: basically two lines in an on-off rotation. Aside from a few star passes, their three primary jammers (Soul Rekker, Shania Pain, and Melanie Austin[Tatious]) jammed all but one of the team’s total jams on the weekend. All three of the jammers had strong weekends with Rekker scoring 345 points (second at the tournament) on 6.5 points per jam and a 66% lead percentage (both of which were tops on the weekend). Shania Pain finished fifth in scoring and recorded a 56% lead percentage. AustinTatious also cracked 50% (51.3%) and averaged a solid 42 points per game.

The roster is a strong mix of homegrown talent and well-integrated transfers. Four members of the charter (Murphy, Sister Disaster, Soul Rekker, and Da Big Block) remain from the Vixen’s very first game in Toronto in 2010, while another, Drunky Brewster, has become the bench manager. The team also features other homegrown talent in blockers (including Margaret Choke, Jane Rudolph, and Bottema) and jammers (AustinTatious). But some transfers are key as well. It’s been a few years since Brennan joined the league from Gainesville, Florida, while BlackeyE seems to have finally found a perfect fit after stints in Kingston and Toronto. Perhaps the biggest addition of the season has been jammer Shania Pain. Originally having learned her derby in the Yukon, Pain just completed her first season with the Vixens despite the challenge of studying in Saint John, New Brunswick, for the vast majority of the year. Although she missed a few games this season, she was incredibly impactful when present.

In Nashville on Sunday, November 1, 2014, the Rideau Valley Vixens will make history when they face off against Detroit for the D2 championship: it will be the first time that an international team will compete for a WFTDA title. Detroit will pose the biggest challenge that the team will have faced this season.

On a post on the Rideau Valley Roller Girls website after the tournament win in Kitchener-Waterloo, Coach Adam cited the biggest strength of the team as being their mental game, which has grown noticeably over the past few seasons: “I am beyond impressed with the mental fortitude and focus the team displayed,” he said. “We upped our mental game ten-fold and avoided every possible meltdown on the bench and on the track.”

It is true that there is something different about this Vixens team. You can see it in the focus of their gazes. It is the look of a team that has confidence in themselves and each other. It is the look of a team that is unified in its single-minded determination to win.

It has been a long, challenging road for the Rideau Valley Roller Girls and their Vixens, and even though it’s just one stop of many on a road that will continue long after this season, this particular one in Nashville has all the feel of being a bigger stop than most.

**Read the Nerd’s recap of Rideau Valley’s Division 2 tournament win here.

Team Canada Outpaces a Scrappy Team Ontario While Misfits Hold Off Bruisers

Alliston, Ontario, was the site of a fantastic night of women’s flat track roller derby where Team Canada continued to tune up as the World Cup nears, the host Misfit Militia picked up a big win, and some of Eastern Canada’s best junior skaters took to the track for an all-star exhibition scrimmage.

Members of Team Ontario and Team Canada celebrate after their game. (Photography by Joe Mac)

Members of Team Ontario and Team Canada celebrate after their game. (Photography by Joe Mac)

It’s going to be a bittersweet 2014 Blood & Thunder Roller Derby World Cup for fans of Canadian roller derby. The team looks strong in the lead up to what will be the largest global roller derby event in the history of the sport (in any of its various incarnations), and it shoulders expectations to repeat as silver medalists. Yet at the same time, it will represent the final skate for many of our nation’s early stars of the sport, some of whom were featured front and centre on Saturday night at the Alliston Memorial Arena. 2011 World Cup MVP Smack Daddy, her Montreal counterparts Georgia W. Tush and Lil’ Mama, along with Toronto’s (Dusty) Watson, all have announced their intentions to retire after the 2014 season and were key pieces on Saturday as Canada held off Team Ontario 195-99 in a thrilling game of roller derby.

Although Team Ontario regulars Watson and Dyna Hurtcha were maple-leaf clad on Saturday, it was still arguably the best Team Ontario roster we have seen take the track yet, and one that included Team Canada members Murphy, USS DentHerPrize (of the Detroit Derby Girls), and Soul Rekker. This stacked provincial roster caught Canada off guard, overwhelming the national team at the opening whistle with Tri-City’s Ova’Kill taking the first lead of the game behind the support of a terrifying Ontario power line of Murphy, Sofanda Beatin, Margaret Choke and Wylde Leigh Coyote. The opening five minutes were actually dead even with the teams trading power jams and Canada just able to slip ahead 14-10. However, over the next 10 minutes the national team woke up and went on a dominant 10-minute run, outscoring Ontario 56-6 to take a 70-16 lead midway through the opening half.

Kim Jana finds an open outside lane for Team Canada. She was part of a deep Canadian rotation. (Photo by Joe Mac)

Kim Jana finds an open outside lane for Team Canada. She was part of a deep Canadian rotation. (Photo by Joe Mac)

Ova’Kill was joined on the jam line by Rideau Valley’s Soul Rekker and Toronto’s Motorhead Molly, with Rideau’s Austintatious getting in on the action as well. They faced off against a fearsome Team Canada rotation of Mel-e-Juana (Montreal), Kim Janna (Terminal City—she looked impressive coming back from a serious leg break), Watson (Toronto), and Calgary’s 2014 breakout star Kris Myass, who was virtually unstoppable in carving up the track for Team Canada and seems to be the anchor of the offense as we lead up to the World Cup.

After the flurry by Canada midway through the half, Ontario tightened things up once again. There were some incredible stand-outs in the Ontario pack led by Murphy (who formed great packs with RVRG teammates Bottema and Margaret Choke and Tri-City’s Wylde Leigh Coyote), but also featuring strong performances from across the board, including Sofanda Beatin, hometown skater Renny Rumble, and pivot Sister Disaster.

Stats were tight in the first half with the teams virtually even in leads and power jams (although Canada was much more successful in this regard and also more proficient on the power kill), and the final fifteen minutes of the half were a virtual stalemate with Canada barely outscoring Ontario 31-30 over that span to hold a 111-46 lead at half.

Canada pivot Demanda Lashing tries to open a lane between Murphy and USS DentHerPrize. (Photo by Joe Mac)

Canada pivot Demanda Lashing tries to open a lane between Murphy and USS DentHerPrize. (Photo by Joe Mac)

Following the World Cup rules that allow for substitutions from beyond the fourteen on the bench, Team Canada sat veterans Smack Daddy, Tush and Watson for the second half to bring in luludemon and the dynamic triple threat Dyna Hurtcha, who tore up the track at every role in the second half. While former Team Canada stars like Mackenzie, Jess Paternostro and Lil’ Mama remain key pieces, it feels as if there is a passing of the torch going on with Team Canada right now, and the new generation of skaters are stepping up to lead the way. Montreal’s Demanda Lashing and Hughes (Surgical Strike) along with Windy City’s KonichiWow, Terminal City’s Karlene Harvey (Buffy Sainte Fury), and Toronto’s Dyna Hurtcha were the dominant forces in this game and helped to maintain Canada’s lead, 145-61, at the midway point of the second.

Canada had a far greater lead jammer percentage in the second half (about 80% to 20% after being close to even in the first) allowing them to hold back an inspired Team Ontario and record the 195-99 win.

Nerd Glasses

This was the third meeting between the Bruisers and the Misfit Militia in the last three years; they'd split the first two games. (Photo by Joe Mac)

This was the third meeting between the Bruisers and the Misfit Militia in the last three years; they’d split the first two games. (Photo by Joe Mac)

The opening game of the double header featured the hometown Misfit Militia squaring off against their Toronto rivals, the Bay Street Bruisers (ToRD’s B-Travel Team). This was a rubber match of sorts as the teams split two decisions over two years leading up to this meeting. Things started tight with both teams trading early power jams and the Militia pulling ahead 10-9; the Bruisers would roar right back to take an 18-14 lead before the Militia stole the lead back 27-18, all before the 10-minute mark of the first period.

The turning point of the first half occurred near the 20-minute mark when Misfit Militia locked down the defense and jammer Smoka Cola managed four natural grand slams in a 23-point jam that gave the Militia the biggest lead of the game, 59-28, which they would maintain at half, leading 93-40 at that point (Smoka Cola had a remarkable 62 points at the break, while the Bruisers scoring was evenly spread out over its four jammers).

The home team went on an 18-6 run to start the second before the Bruisers began a sustained pushback, but the Toronto team was never quite able to overcome the gap. Remarkably, lead jammer status was nearly even throughout (with the Militia holding only a slight 20-19 advantage) as were power jams, but the stunning defense and stifling penalty kill of the Misfit Militia stole the show and kept the Bruisers at bay. In the end, Smoka Cola recorded a game high 87 points while Bellefast (skating for Toronto in her hometown) led the way for the visitors with 44 points (Sleeper Hold, who had a rough first half, bounced back big time in the second and ended up with 28 points). Although the Bruisers, who finish the season 7-5, slightly improved upon last year’s 90-point loss, with the 174-104 win, the Misfit Militia (7-1) proved once again that they are one of the (if not the) nation’s top non-WFTDA affiliated leagues.

Nerd Glasses

Despite rumblings to the contrary on social media and in roller derby forums, the sport of roller derby has never ever been as healthy as it is today (not even close): more people are playing it in more countries than ever, and more people are watching it and exposed to it than ever before. I was never more aware of this than on Saturday while sitting at an old-school wooden-bleacher iceless hockey arena in a rural Ontario town that itself has two distinct roller derby leagues, where our national team was facing off against one of its provincial counterparts, all under the awe-filled gaze of a group of junior-aged players who were in town to try out for their own national team.

Just fourteen years ago—less than two decades!!—not only would no one have believed this possible, no one would have even thought to consider it.

Next stop on the road may be Nashville for the WFTDA Championship, but just over the horizon, Dallas looms.

*** Check out layer9.ca for trackside video coverage, and local viewers check local listings for Rogers TV rebroadcasts of the game.

Steady Dolls Hold off Relentless Gores to Retain ToRD Title

The Dolls defended the Boot in a tight, scrappy bout against the Gores, while the Betties closed out a challenging season with a big win over the Renegade Derby Dames’ Striking Vikings.

The Dolls joined the Gores (2009-10) and the Chicks (2011-2012) as back-to-back ToRD champs. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

The Dolls joined the Gores (2009-10) and the Chicks (2011-2012) as back-to-back ToRD champs. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

There was an old-school vibe at the Bunker on Saturday night: a lively crowd, active mascots, and rising beeramids lined the track, while tutus and face-paint made their way back onto it, but the game itself was new-school flat track roller derby at its frenetic best. It was one of those fine balances unique to the sport; a dichotomy that only roller derby at its best is able to pull off. Fueled by this richness of narrative, the dueling opponents  rose up to meet expectations and delivered. When the smoke cleared and the dust settled, it was the Death Track Dolls who survived the duel, able to hold off the three-time champion Gore-Gore Rollergirls 184-139 to take home their second straight Toronto Roller Derby championship.

The defending champion Dolls came in focused and unified. (Photo by Greg Russell)

The defending champion Dolls came in focused and unified. (Photo by Greg Russell)

Coming off of a record-setting season capped by a record-setting Battle for the Boot mauling against the Betties in 2013, the defending-champion Dolls, rebuilt and not as fine-tuned or weapon-stacked as they were last year, relied on a different sort of chemistry to make it work in 2014. It was a challenge that could have understandably felled a lot of teams, but the combination of trust and positivity that fueled the 2014 Dolls was evident from the opening whistle of the 2014 Battle for the Boot.

Not to discredit the Gores, who themselves were dealing with a largely rebuilt roster and had to find a way to fuse multiple-generations of skaters into a cohesive unit. They succeeded, and rebounded in 2014 from their worst season ever in 2013 to return to their seventh championship game and, of course, in April became the first team from Toronto to win Montreal’s Beast of the East. And despite a near 100-point loss to them earlier this season, in this game they gave the Dolls all that they could handle.

Dolls' jammer Bellefast and Gores' Lexi Con were both excellent for their teams. (Photo by Greg Russell)

Dolls’ jammer Bellefast and Gores’ Lexi Con were both excellent for their teams. (Photo by Greg Russell)

The league’s leading scorer Bellefast got things started on the jam line for the Dolls, and it was clockwork for the defending champs as they lept out to a quick 4-0 lead. But the Gores roared back showing some offensive savvy in ringing off five straight lead jammer statuses (and seven of the first ten), but could manage only 9 points on the run to hold a slim 9-4 lead, a testament to the Dolls’ stifling defense and quick offense-defense transitions to free jammers and make sure any damage was limited. Early on the Gores were able to contain Dolls’ first-year jammers Devochka and Sleeper Hold, but had virtually no answer for veteran Bellefast.

Belle managed the third highest regular season lead percentage in ToRD history this year (77%) and kept the Dolls in the championship game early on as they got their offensive blocking going. She scored the first 25 points for the Dolls and had 67 at half on a 78% lead percentage in a dominating performance¹. While Devochka eventually managed to start putting up points midway through the first, it would take Sleeper seven jams to pick up lead and get on the board. Once the pack settled in though, all three jammers eventually got going (for example, Sleeper put up 16 points in the second half on 60% lead percentage, while Devo would finish the game with 49 points on 53%).

Gores' Chronic and Kandy Barr hold back Dolls' jammer Devochka. (Photo be Neil Gunner)

Gores’ Chronic and Kandy Barr hold back Dolls’ jammer Devochka. (Photo be Neil Gunner)

The game was incredibly tight early on, with the Dolls slipping ahead 33-25 at the midway point in the first period, and the game’s true highlight was the duel going on the pack. Skater for skater, the Gores arguably had the deeper pack, led by veterans Santa Muerte, Chronic, Gamma Rei, Emma Dilemma and the retiring league founder Kandy Barr, and the Gores did win many one-on-one battles, but as the game went on the Dolls’ walls tightened and what the team lacked in individual brilliance, they made up for in collective unity.

Mirroring the Gores’ opening run, the Dolls steered the game into half picking up eight of the final ten lead jammers and building the game’s largest lead—30 points—up 95-65 at the break.

It wasn’t that the Gores’ jammers weren’t having strong games: they were; it was just that they so rarely had an opportunity to make a pass without a Dolls jammer hot on their tails. Both Lexi Con and Lumberjack Flash finished the game with impressive lead percentages, 71% and 60% respectively, and Beaver Mansbridge made the most of her leads putting up 25 points on a 38% lead percentage (Taranosaurus Rex would have a similar high points-per-lead ratio, managing 18 points on only a 20%).

Dawson and Wheatabitch wrap up Gores' jammer Beaver Mansbridge. (Photo be Neil Gunner)

Dolls’ blockers Dawson and Wheatabitch wrap up Gores’ jammer Beaver Mansbridge. (Photo be Neil Gunner)

While the Dolls played with a hive-mind sensibility, they were anchored by strong performances from their key skaters and veterans. After a number of retirements and CN Power call ups last season there was a big on-track leadership void in the pack and long-time Doll Dawson stepped up in a big way this season, and was at her best in the championship game, anchoring a line alongside veteran co-captain Getcha Kicks and retiring long-time Doll Audrey Hellborn (who joined the jammer rotation late in the game and picked up, fittingly, the final lead of the half to close out the win).

Meanwhile the same sort of pressure was heaped on second-year skaters Android W.K. and Robotmy who were tasked with anchoring the other half of the pack and did well to live up to the challenge, aided in part by the presence of and ever-improving Hannibelle and another long-time Doll Slam Wow. Finally, yet another retiring league founder, Demolition Dawn, provided the foundational and emotional stability that was key to this team’s year-long success. And the Dolls needed this veteran poise in the second half as the Gores poured on wave after wave of energetic pushbacks, managing to get as close as 19 points after a 20-point Lexi Con jammed power jam midway through the half (Lexi managed to pick up lead on her first six jams of the second half in a fantastic, clutch performance).

A veteran Gores line of Emma Dilemma, Kandy Barr, Chronic and Santa Muerte talk with their bench during a time out. (photo by Greg Russell)

A veteran Gores line of Emma Dilemma, Kandy Barr, Chronic and Santa Muerte talk with their bench during a time out. (photo by Greg Russell)

The Gores too have a solid young core to build around. Full Deck is emerging as a strong pivot and potential triple-threat, while both Moose Knuckles and Viktory Lapp saved their best for the when it mattered most this season, showing that they can be called upon in big-game situations. There is a ton of depth on the Gores roster as well, from veterans Miss Kitty La Peur and Purple Pain to newcomers like Machu Beatchu and Guardian Paingel (who were both absent with injury).

Prior to the game, sixteen retiring skaters were singled out for their contributions to the league. It was a humbling list including many first-generation ToRD skaters including Betty Bomber, Candy Crossbones, Demolition Dawn, Dusty, Dyna Hurtcha, Hoff, Kandy Barr, and Rebel Rock-It. It leaves a gaping absence in the centre of the organization, but it is one that the league has the infrastructure to fill. As a whole, the league should take notice of the Dolls model of smart drafting: This year’s pick ups in Stringer Belle, Wheatabitch and Free Range Clam were model skaters for the Dolls, making up for any lack of experience by buying into the team model and playing within the established system.

They were integral pieces in the Dolls’ complete-game performance in the final, and the team went toe-to-toe with their opponents during the Gores’ final desperate push where they had the offense going but couldn’t fully shut down the Dolls in a 25-11 run over the final four jams. The Dolls remained focused and held on for the 45-point victory.

Despite the retirements and the feeling of finality to this championship game, ToRD as a whole has a chance to do the same sort of on-the-fly rebuild that the Dolls did, only on a larger scale. With a deep house league entry draft loaded with both homegrown and transfer talent coming up, and an internal development system strongly in place in place from fresh meat all the way up to CN Power, this entertaining and successful eighth championship game should be looked at as much as an augur of a successful future as it was a celebration of a strong history.

"The Boot" Photo by Neil Gunner (neilgunner.com)

The Betties led 135-55 at half in their win over the Striking Vikings. (Photo by Greg Russell)

The Betties led 135-55 at half in their win over the Striking Vikings. (Photo by Greg Russell)

***In the opener, the Smoke City Betties picked up a much-needed win over the Renegade Derby Dames’ travel team, the Striking Vikings, 237-167. After climbing all the way to the 2013 Battle for the Boot, the Betties stumbled this season, finishing last in ToRD and missing the playoffs. They played, arguably, their most complete game on the season on Saturday and beat a tough opponent that featured some talented skaters.

***The 2014 Battle for the Boot will be rebroadcast intermittently on Rogers TV beginning next Saturday. Check listings for air times and dates. Visit layer9.ca for track side video coverage.

¹These stats are all unofficial and will be updated for accuracy if necessary.

Skull on Fire: Coping with Multiple Concussions in Roller Derby (Guest Post)

Guest blogger and retired skater Speedin’ Hawking discusses her history of concussions and provides resources on diagnoses, rehabilitation, and how to ease yourself back into play.

“When you feel like this looks”

“When you feel like this looks”

My 5-year derby-versary was approaching in only a few months. I was extremely excited to re-join our B travel team after a spot opened up, and brought that enthusiasm to my first practice back that night. Towards the end of practice we scrimmaged our A-team, as we often would. At one point when I was blocking, I got caught in a pick and took a clean hit in the chest. It caught me off guard and took me off my feet. My head flung backwards, and as I was falling, I am told that the back of my head made contact with another skater in motion who was behind me, thrusting it forward. My immediate reaction was a panic attack. I started hyperventilating and crying and was ultimately confused and really distraught. I quietly moved off the track to gain control of what I thought was just a weird emotional outburst, withdrew myself from the group and hid behind a pillar so as not to bring attention to my embarrassing reaction. I sat out for the few remaining minutes of the practice while our first responders and my loving derby wife checked me out and tried to put me at ease.

Speedin' Hawking pivots for the Bay Street Bruisers in a game against Royal City in October 2012. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

The author, Speedin’ Hawking, pivots for the Bay Street Bruisers in a game against Royal City in October 2012. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

I didn’t lose consciousness or forget my name, but I didn’t know exactly what had happened or how. I was really confused, and that is unusual for me as a fairly aware skater. I felt like I got my bell rung and immediately felt ‘out of it’. I drove myself home alone, which was a challenge in itself, as the road looked like that  drunk driving commercial from the 80s. Bad idea.

If this was a concussion, it would have been my fourth in a year and a half. Given that I am a shorter skater at 5’2″, it’s not a surprise that half of these were due to being hit in the chin or jaw and made worse with the whiplash that came with it. The other half are because I am a bit of a spaz in my day-to-day life. I wish I could tell you it’s from being bad-ass.

Needless to say I took some time to stay off skates, and since have had to pack it in for roller derby. As sad as this is, I have found that since I have become a vet at this concussion thing lately, and more and more leaguemates of mine have been asking about it: What does it feel like? What can you do about it? Who do you go see? Should I get a hockey helmet? Face shield? You too??!! And so on. Or sharing quietly that they think they have one and ask what they should do.

I am not sure if you have noticed in your leagues, but I have never seen so many people off skates at the same time due to this injury. We have become fitter, better, more agile, faster and more aggressive skaters. We are weapons on wheels. We are making fancier moves on our skates. Our style of play has evolved to be more scrum-like. Our rules have recently changed to allow some clockwise movement. I am not sure if all these things are linked, but they can’t be ignored either. If this is the way things are going, then let’s look after our brains cause we only get one (at least for now: c’mon science, where are you on this one?).

I also sucked up precious screen time searching the Internet for answers as to how I was feeling, what’s normal, and what I should do as a coping mechanism to counter the fear and anxiety I was experiencing. Now that I am mostly symptom-free 5 months later (hurray!) I thought I would compile some resources as well as share my learning from a derby perspective. This way, they are on-hand for others with symptoms who might be new to this or for teammates, captains and coaches to refer to in case of future injuries. Thanks to others who have gone through this too who shared their tips and resources with me.

I am not a doctor, or a professional healthcare provider, just a gal who has been searching for more and more answers on the Internet every time she bonks her face in roller derby.

If you think you or your buddy might have suffered a concussion, please visit a physician (sports or specialist if you can rather than a walk-in clinic or even your family doctor. Get checked out as soon as you can. Even if you think it’s no big deal and you feel mostly fine. Even if you only feel “just a bit off”. It’s very easy to talk yourself out of your injury, especially if you have a game coming up, or are super busy in life, so you really need others close to you to call you on your bullshit.

Following is a summary of things you might be wondering about concussions along with some handy references.

WHAT IS A CONCUSSION?

Your skull is your body’s built-in helmet. Your brain sits in your skull suspended in fluid. When you get rocked by a hit, your brain bounces around inside your skull, which can result in “bruising.” This could be because you fell and hit your head, but can also occur by being jostled or shaken.

Watch this! Science!

Also watch this: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Concussions

Also read:

What Happens to the Brain During a Concussion” from Scientific American

What a Bump to the Head Looks Like Inside Your Brain” from PBS.

WHIPLASH AND CONCUSSION-LIKE SYMPTOMS

Found to be highly related to concussions, whiplash can produce similar symptoms. Sometimes the tension or alignment in the neck that results can cause a pinching in your spine, which can have the same weird neurological effects as a concussion.

Read:

Whiplash: 5 Things You Should Know” from spineuniverse.com

POSSIBLE CAUSES OF CONCUSSION

I am sure you are creative and can find more ways but here are some common ones:

– impact to the head from a hit or a fall

– impact to the face or jaw causing the head and neck to jostle and may include whiplash

– impact to the body causing the head and neck to jostle and may include whiplash

Read the Mayo Clinic’s list of basic causes here.

DIAGNOSIS AND TESTING

On-Track:

Ensure that your first-responders or coaches and managers in your league have been trained to screen and assess if a concussion may have occurred or can help with triaging the injury. Review WFTDA Safety Protocol Section 6 carefully as well as Appendix C-D for concussion info.

The SCAT (Sport Concussion Assessment Tool) is quite commonly used. The current version is SCAT3: Sport Concussion Assessment Tool

Here’s an offline sheet that you can keep a few copies of near the track or in your bags:  Sport Concussion Assessment Tool PDF

The CDC also offers this palm card that walks through the assessment: Palm card assessment

And, of course there’s an app for that! Here’s a great breakdown of the popular concussion apps.

Post-Concussion:

You might end up getting a CT Scan or in bad cases an MRI to be sure there’s no head trauma or blood clotting, but because it’s really hard to “see” bruising on your brain, there is really no conclusive way at this time to see how bad your concussion is. You break a bone, you get an x-ray and can see it. We don’t have that kind of thing yet for concussions.
So the best you can do is monitor your symptoms which is why it’s super important to see a doctor and talk this out with them. Bonus points if they have a specialty or are a sports physician who deals with this a lot.

There are tests that rely on testing your neurological responses, cognition and balance, but their accuracy is debated and there aren’t any broadly accepted tools at this time for diagnosis. A couple of them are:

As for finding a physician, many in our league here in Toronto have visited the David L. MacIntosh Sport Medicine Clinic at the University of Toronto for help

Also check out:

The clinic you visit already for physio for your myriad of other derby injuries might also have someone there with a specialty in treating sports concussions.


SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

Here is a list of common symptoms. This is your best way to track your progress, so really try to monitor how you feel. Write it down every day even. You might start seeing patterns emerge after certain stimulus. For example, during a regular work day post-concussion, it was normal for me to get a pressure headache between 3 and 4 pm due to computer usage and thinking so darn hard. I knew I was getting better when that would start to go away.

Think of it as a “buffet” of options, or a “portfolio”. You might not feel all of them at any given time, but even feeling one of them counts. Don’t tell yourself that you don’t have a concussion if you feel a bunch of these but then don’t feel nauseous, for example. A good sign is thinking that something is out of the ordinary for you. Also, you aren’t better until your symptoms go away completely.

If you decide to take anything to treat these symptoms (like ibuprofen or anti-nauseants), just be aware that you could be masking your symptoms which is your only reliable way to measure progress in your rehab.

  1. Headache
  2. Pressure in head
  3. Neck Pain
  4. Nausea or Vomiting
  5. Dizziness
  6. Blurred vision
  7. Balance problems
  8. Light sensitivity
  9. Noise Sensitivity
  10. Feeling slowed down
  11. Feeling “in a fog”
  12. “Don’t feel right”
  13. Difficulty concentrating
  14. Difficulty remembering
  15. Fatigue or low energy
  16. Confusion
  17. Drowsiness
  18. Trouble falling asleep
  19. More emotional
  20. Irritability
  21. Sadness
  22. Nervousness or anxiousness

Read more:

Concussion Signs and Symptoms” from momsteam.com

Concussion Signs and Symptoms” from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

POST-CONCUSSIVE DISORDER

This is actually a thing! You are not on crazy pills! You may have rolled away from a practice or game feeling alright after a hit, but then start feeling the effects later or a month later. Post-concussive disorder symptoms skew more on the psycho-behavioural side of things rather than physiological. So if you are seeing behavioural or emotional changes in yourself, this could be why. Like feeling extra “hulk-smash-y” or like you are PMS’ing, or like your old anxiety challenges have been triggered again. Try not to get too paranoid about it and go see a doctor to put you at ease and work on next steps to rehab.

REHABILITATION

Rest. That’s it. Cognitive and physical rest. Nothing fancy. Unfortunately this often means laying down and doing nothing, no brain stimulation. This includes abstaining from watching videos, listening to music, reading, writing, audiobooks. Stay off your smart phone! It’s like your body is now grounded as punishment for doing something dumb to your brain.  You might be sensitive to light and certain frequencies of sound, so hang out in a dim and / or quiet room. Earplugs and sunglasses become your best friends.

ETY Plugs by Etymotics have been the best ever, I take them everywhere with me.

Work with your physician to determine a plan for what’s best for you as far as timing, rest and return to activities and exercise. Determine if you have to take a leave from work or school, and if there is any disability support in place to assist you with keeping up. If you are typically a busy-body, then you might need someone to explicitly tell you how to rest.

Stay away from practice. Watching your teammates skate fast around and around while whistles go off can be overstimulating. As much as you might want to participate off-skates and be with your team, this environment does not help with your rehab. Hopefully your coaches and teammates understand.

Supplements: Unlike taking something to treat your symptoms, your doctor might prescribe supplements that promote brain healing and cognitive improvement. This might include:

  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) – promotes the production of energy in the brain’s blood vessels (1)
  • Magnesium – improves synaptic plasticity, aids memory and learning (2)
  • Vinpocetine – enhances cerebral blood flow and neuroprotective effects (3)
  • DHA Omega-3 or Fish oil – brain development (4)
  1.  Vitamin B22 (From howstuffworks.com)
  2. “Magnesium Boosts Brain Function” from wellnessresources.com
  3. Vinpocetine (Wikipedia)
  4. Docosahexaenoic Acid (Wikipedia)

Physio / massage: Your treatment plan from your doctor might also include cranial massage or acupuncture to help with the pressure release and stimulate circulation to the brain to aid the healing process. I have had cranial massages, skull pecking, acupuncture in my head and even a deep neck flexor massage for whiplash. I have also been prescribed neck strengthening exercises as part of my physio.

Your treatment plan might even include some low-impact exercise to help increase blood flow to your brain. I found it also helps get those feel-good endorphins going to counter those downer feelings you might be experiencing.


RETURN TO PLAY

This is going to take time, and like all injuries, rushing back will only harm you in the long run. You want to be sure that you are fully recovered before trying to skate again in order to avoid aggravation or re-injury. Since multiple concussions have a cumulative effect, you don’t want to experience another, and especially not right away. It will set you back exponentially and can leave you with lingering or long-term effects.

Most concussion guidelines for sports have a pretty explicit return to play outline, however, ensure that your doctor clears you to skate initially (your sport is skating around and around for hours!) and then again to resume contact.

Here are a few good ones:

Captains and managers should also treat this injury as they would any other player injury. Depending on your league policies, a doctors note would be ideal. Know the steps:

  1. No activity, complete rest
  2. Light aerobic exercise
  3. Sport-specific activities – like skating
  4. Drills, no contact
  5. Drills with contact
  6. Game play

Take it step by step.

Start with light, low impact activity, like biking, walking or swimming, and move through the levels only if you are completely symptom-free. Not even a little headache. If you do feel your symptoms as a result, you need to continue your rest and rehab. Then try again at that level. This can sometimes be a slow, frustrating process.

There are also newer studies that suggest some exercise might also accelerate your progress. Best to just monitor how you are feeling. Try and see what might work for you and how you feel.

If you have suffered from multiples or even a single major event, know when it’s time to pack it in. Look at your risks vs rewards if you are considering returning, and consider how to avoid long-term damage (Decrease competitiveness? Try low contact? Take a couple of years off?)

As much as we are in love with our sport and the derby community, you only get one brain.

PREVENTION

Like my catholic upbringing taught me, the surefire way to avoid accidents is abstinence from engagement in risky activities. But really, we can’t skate around in a safety bubble like in bubble sports, can we? No really, can we??!!!

We play a contact sport that celebrates our athletes’ differences in size and shape, and we would hate to see that change. We have complete understanding that sometimes accidents just happen in contact sports.

Here are some ideas, however, that could help avoid first or future concussions in roller derby, or at least reduce the frequency we are seeing. It would also be wonderful if the ruleset was evaluated for safety by medical professionals and revised accordingly in addition to considering changes related to improvement of game play and spectator experience.

  • Helmets and face shields: Helmets can be great for helping absorb impact when hit, and protect your skull, but can’t help as much when you get a shot in the face or whiplash. At least, start with a legit multi-impact helmet for real! With the hard foam. Take that rubberized helmet you bought and throw it in the garbage. Don’t let your fresh meat buy them when they are investing in gear at the beginning. Check out section 9.1.3 of the rules to find out what equipment variations pass. Just like all of your other gear try options on, or borrow from your pals till you find the proper fit. Acknowledge that your head shape just might not fit properly with certain models. Look for a balance of protection and functionality (lightweight, not too hot, etc.) Some might find that hockey-style helmets stabilize the jarring and head and neck a bit more. Some find that face shields help prevent face hits. There are many options, just don’t cheap out on this body part when it comes to protection.
  • Practice backwards blocking as a skill: This is a newer blocking style that is becoming more prominent in game play, however not one commonly taught as a foundation in fresh meat programs. Practice greater control when transitioning quickly. Practice more upper body blocking techniques, giving and receiving, with the aim of avoiding flailing limbs or head/face hits. Especially try safely backwards blocking and side blocking or “picking” with a variety of different-sized opponents.
  • Strengthen your neck and upper body: Roller derby is definitely a total body sport, so don’t forget these body parts in your dry land training. Now that there is much more backwards blocking and shoulder blocking, strengthen this part of your body so that you can safely absorb and deliver these upper body hits. For blockers, this may also help dealing with that transfer of momentum from jammers coming in hot to a slow or stopped pack.
  • Call out head and face hits: For coaches and managers, try to pay attention to these hits as much as you would cutting and back blocking if refs aren’t at practice to call the high blocks. I feel like we let this one slide a lot because “it just happens”, meanwhile, we might be enforcing sloppy play and letting repeated hits to the face or head happen, which over time could increase susceptibility if a bigger hit is received. Remember that this injury is cumulative. Pull or bench any players for egregious play for sure.

TALK ABOUT IT

Finally, talk this out with others in your league or reach out to our amazingly supportive sports community. As horrible as it was that a number of us got injured at the same time in our league, we’ve become a great little support group for each other. It has also helped raise awareness about the injury in our league. There’s a great deal of comfort in knowing that you have leaguemates concerned for your well-being that have experienced the same symptoms and are going through rehab with you, especially in dealing with the psycho behavioural effects. We have also shared a great deal of knowledge and referred others to the right doctors, as well as have some ideas for future projects in this area, so stay tuned!

We play an adrenaline-driven sport that on top of it all, we put our hearts into organizing, building, running and progressing. This can make it extra challenging to pull back when the time comes, whether it’s taking a short break or a long one.

There’s a great documentary called The Crash Reel that helps puts things into perspective and does a great job illustrating how passion for our sport can take over. Thanks Kamikaze Kitten for the recommendation and for being just a random Facebook message away!

Watch Trailer: The Crash Reel

Save your brain, you may need it later.

And if you are currently rehabbing a concussion, thanks for using up some of your screen time here.

Feel free to keep the conversation going here in the comments section, or by sharing your resources and experiences too!

Guest Blogger Speedin’ Hawking skated with Toronto Roller Derby from 2009 to 2014 as a member of the Death Track Dolls (2013 co-captain) and the Bay Street Bruisers B-level travel team (‎2012-2013).
Speedin Hawking blocking in a preseason game against Tri-City's Venus Fly Tramps before her 2010 rookie season with ToRD. (Photo by Chrissie Woo)

Speedin Hawking blocking in a preseason game against Tri-City’s Venus Fly Tramps before her 2010 rookie season with ToRD. (Photo by Chrissie Woo)

***Would you like to be a guest blogger?? Contact the Derby Nerd with questions, proposals, or recommendations at thederbynerd@gmail.com***

Canadian Power Rankings: August 1, 2014

Captain Lou El Bammo, Dick Pounder, Dr. Jenny Fever and Derby Nerd rank Canada’s top A-level travel teams every two months. Read the June 1st Power Rankings here.

TEAM (League) CHANGE NOTES (Rollergirl.ca /WFTDA rank)
1. New Skids on the Block (Montreal Roller Derby)

Montreal Roller Derby: New Skids on the Block

Sometimes experience can overcome everything else. Despite finally slipping to second in both the Canadian Rankings and WFTDA (one spot behind Terminal City), the Skids keep overcoming the odds and winning when they need to. Their 199-177 victory over Terminal City at ECDX allows them to maintain their power ranking lead. However, they looked inconsistent in a blowout loss to Victorian followed by a strong showing against Windy City.  (/ 19).
2. Terminal City All Stars (Terminal City Roller Girls)Terminal City All Stars Vancouver enters the  WFTDA playoffs as the top Canadian team by virtually every metric out there except on: wins and losses. Terminal City’s only loss in the last three months has come against the Skids, but they are most recently coming off of solid wins against Boston and Houston.  (1 / 18)
3.CN Power (Toronto Roller Derby)New CNP Logo After an inconsistent start to the season (including a nine-game losing streak), Toronto had knocked off three wins in a row before a fairly one-sided loss to Charm City (282-146) ended the streak. They seem to be reeling as they prepare for playoffs, but last season came together when it mattered most, so don’t count them out just yet. (3 / 23)
4. Tri-City Thunder (Tri-City Roller Derby)Tri-City Thunder Logo Since the last Power Rankings, Tri-City has knocked off three-straight wins (including a crushing 281-67 win over former D1ers Bleeding Heartland) and, of course, became the fourth Canadian team to qualify for the D1 Playoffs, thereby missing out on their own party.  (4 / 40)
5. Rideau Valley Vixens (Rideau Valley Roller Girls)

Vixens Logo

The Vixens have only played two games since the last Power Rankings, but they were both solid wins over NEO and Green Mountain that allowed them to continue their meteoric rise up the D2 standings. They will have the pleasure of being the first Canadian team to play a playoff game on home soil, and are positioned well for a solid run through the D2 playoffs. (5 / 48)
6.Calgary All Stars (Calgary Roller Derby Association)Calgary All Stars Logo +1 (7)  The reality of the WFTDA slog has seen Calgary slip back a  bit after a ferocious start. Nonetheless, they have continued to impress against Canadian competition, winning three in a row against tough teams in the Kannibelles, The Belladonnas and Winnipeg. They’ll have a chance to live up to this ranking this weekend at the Maple Stir-Up.  (7/105)

7.Misfit Militia (Misfit Militia Roller Derby)
Misfit Militia Logo

+1 (8)  The Misfit Militia continue to baffle. With sometimes seemingly makeshift rosters, the team continues to compete at an incredibly high level. Although they’ve only played once since the last rankings, that game was a monstrous 441-97 win over Forest City. There still doesn’t seem to be much interest in making the leap to the WFTDA, so they may be hard pressed to get many games with top-level competition. (8 / -)
8. The Eh! Team (Hammer City Roller Girls)Hammer City Logo -2 (6) In 2013, Hammer City was one of the hottest teams in the WFTDA. Unfortunately, that hasn’t completely carried over to 2014. Although still favourably ranked in D2, Hammer City has lost all seven of its sanctioned bouts this year by increasingly larger margins. They will be in tough this weekend at their first ever Maple Stir Up tournament, but will have a chance to redeem themselves on their home track. (20 / 83)
9. Belladonnas (Red Deer Roller Derby Association)Belladonnas Logo Unranked The perennial Top 10ers were late to the party this season, but are back and sneak into the Top 10. Tough losses to Treasure Valley and Calgary (despite solid offensive performances) should harden them for the rest of the season. (9 / -)
10. Les Duchesses (Roller Derby Quebec)Duchesses Logo  (-) Les Duchesses were able to hold off another hot team in Muddy River in a home-and-home series that allows them to retain their spot. From the bottom up, this remains an organization on the rise and certainly one to watch as a potential new consistent Canadian powerhouse. (12 / – )

With Hammer City’s historic Maple Stir Up coming up this weekend, the Rankings Crew decided to stagger the release of this month’s Power Rankings. While there wasn’t much change, what there was, was significant. Notably, Calgary jumps two spots based on the Power Rankings Crew’s prediction of a strong showing at the tournament in Hamilton.

Speaking of Maple Stir Up, Hammer City, the hosts, tumble two spots based on increasingly inconsistent play and another long losing streak. The Belladonnas return to action and to the Top 10, knocking out the injury-riddled and roster-shuffling Sugar Skulls, who may have some rebuilding to do. Les Duchesses faced off twice against a bubble team, the Muddy River Rollers, and won both games, if not definitively, then certainly close to that. Finally, the Kootenay Kannibelles are hanging up their skates for the season, so slip from the list for now.

ON THE BUBBLE

Lumbersmacks (Muddy River Rollers)

All Stars (Winnipeg Roller Derby League)

Sugar Skulls (Pile ‘O Bones Derby Club)

The Sugar Skulls have had some roster adjustments recently, and it remains to be seen how the teams respond. Nonetheless, they have proven resilient in the past and remain on the Bubble. Both Winnipeg and Muddy River continue to impress, but each missed opportunities to climb into the Top 10 after suffering losses to ranked opponents.

TEAMS TO WATCH

Anarchy Angels (Mainland Misfits)

E-Ville Dead (E-Ville Roller Derby)

Arch Angels (St. Albert Heavenly Rollers)

Avalanche City Roller Girls (Fernie Roller Derby Society)

Not much change here, except to see the addition of Fernie’s Avalanche City, which has been a hard working team in 2014, compiling an impressive 13-4 record that includes a current six-game winning streak.

*These rankings were compiled by the Derby Nerd, Captain Lou El Bammo, Dick Pounder, and Dr. Jenny Fever.

*Read the Canadian Power Rankings preview and explanation here.

-Respectful disagreement and debate is encouraged!-

Peaches Does Roller Derby: The Clam Slam, WorldPride, and the Most Important Woman in the World

In which the Nerd reflects on the importance of WorldPride, the Clam Slam’s role within it, and how for a few days in September 2012, he was convinced that Peaches was the most important woman in the world.

The Clam Slam, this year a WorldPride Affiliate event, is in its 6th year.

The Clam Slam, this year a WorldPride Affiliate event, is in its 6th year.

As the giddiness of another Toronto Pride celebration begins to fade, the thrill of the event wears off, and it’s hard not to become reflective: on how inclusive and open a city we live, about how wonderful it is to celebrate diversity and difference and live in a place where those things are met with celebration instead if fear.

This year, the world came to our city to celebrate the first ever WorldPride held on North American soil. It meant an increased focus, increased participation, but it also meant an increased awareness of what life is like for members of the LGBTQITSLFA (LGBT) community outside of Canada. In turning our eyes to the struggles of those in places like Uganda, for example, we are able to see how lucky we are here.

Not, of course, to imply that the situation in Canada is perfect. It most certainly is not. We need only look to the thinly veiled homophobic actions and comments by the mayor of the largest city in our country to know that there are still battles to be fought on our own home soil. What we are lucky about here in Canada is that the battle has (mostly)  moved away from the systemic and legal arenas and onto the front lines: it’s become a battle of hand-to-hand combat against the last stragglers in the army of the close-minded. But because of the numerous victories, the battle has also shifted to become both more expansive and more specific, shifting focus toward trans rights or the rights of those members in the LGBT community who are also visible minorities.

In Canada, while these individual battles still rage, we have the support of the system. Most members of the LGBT community in Canada are afforded equal rights by the law. That is a powerful weapon with which to fight the individual ground battles that are still occurring. It is a weapon that many people in the world do not have at their disposal.

Plaid Mafia's WhackedHer (skating as VAGilante) gets sandwiched during the opening game of the Clam Slam.

Plaid Mafia’s WhackedHer (skating as VAGilante) gets sandwiched during the opening game of the Clam Slam. (Photo by Greg Russell)

Arguably, the most moving event at WorldPride was the mass wedding performed at Casa Loma on Thursday, June 26. Featuring nearly 120 couples from around the world, many were from countries where same-sex marriage is still not allowed. What was most shocking was that many participants were from wealthy, developed countries like Australia and South Korea. A grim reminder of how far we are from living on a globally free planet.

Across the city in Ted Reeve Arena, at the same time that this remarkable wedding was happening, representatives from 16 North American roller derby leagues were taking part in the 6th annual Clam Slam: a Pride-affiliate all-star roller derby bout run through a collaboration between Toronto Roller Derby and the Great Toronto Area Rollergirls. This year, however, there was a very special guest on hand to blow the opening whistle of the second and final game of the evening: Peaches. The singer would return the favour a few days later when a group of ToRD skaters appeared on stage during her concert.

Now an international phenomenon, Peaches has been a growing icon in the LGBT community (and well beyond!) since her first album, The Teaches of Peaches, was released in 2000. It has never seemed strange to me that the rise of Peaches’ career has coincided with the rise of flat track roller derby. Both, to me, are absolutely essential aspects of North American life in the 21st century, and both are intricately intertwined with the LGBT community as well.

2003 was an astonishing year—perhaps the first true year of the 21st century (in the same way that some people refer to 1963 as being the first year of what we think of as “The ’60s”). 2003 would be the year of SARS, the year the first deer was cloned, and the Hubble telescope would see so deep into space, it could see galaxies that existed in the few millennia after the Big Bang.

In 2003, Belgium would follow the Netherlands in legalizing same-sex marriage at a national level, while closer to home, the province of Ontario would become the first jurisdiction in the Americas to allow it.

Fans of flat track roller derby also know that in the Austin, Texas, in April, the Texas Rollergirls would host the first official game of flat track roller derby, playing under a rule set that would eventually lead to the WFTDA rule set played so widely today.

The album cover of Peaches' second album, Fatherfucker (2003).

The cover of Peaches’ second album, Fatherfucker (2003).

Peaches would release her second, break-through album, Fatherfucker in September of that year; its very title an affront to any sort of attempt at wide mainstream acceptance. Through two albums, she’d created a gender-defying persona with a heightened sexuality. And, as evidenced by the album title, she didn’t give a fuck what you thought of her. At all. She was going to be herself and she was going to shove that self in your face: you could either look away or you could do your best to take it all in and be awed by it.

My partner was enthralled by Peaches from the first time she heard Peaches’ voice slip in over top of the raw, low-fi beats that begin “Fuck the Pain Away,” the opening track of Teaches of Peaches. Her growing passion for Peaches just got bigger after she discovered and started playing roller derby, a community that as a whole seemed to share my partner’s love for the singer.

One of the first things I noticed about the roller derby community was how big the LGBT community was within it. The revival of the sport had been very much wrapped up in third-wave feminism and was fueled by a punk rock sensibility; especially in Montreal, where I was first seeing the game, roller derby and the LGBT community were fused to the point where I didn’t much think about one without the other. But I also noticed right away that the sport itself—and how inclusive, empowering and all encompassing it could be—led to a certain transcendence of politics. I once wrote about how struck I was that skaters weren’t traditionally feminist in that they didn’t seem to be caught up in a fight for acceptance or inclusion; they simply expected it.

For me, Peaches has always represented a similar attitude. A similar transcendence. For the most part, the persona of Peaches takes the point of view of a woman in her song writing, but she isn’t interested in adhering to any sort of traditional notions of what being a woman is, and as her career has gone on, her persona has become more ambiguous. She just is. There is an overt sexual “baseness” to her writing that is grounded in an extremely physical experience. She is living through her body, experiencing life through her body, and that body happens to be a female one.

Naptown Jammer Maiden America (playing for the Eager Beavers) attempts to pass Montreal's Nameless Whorror (Clam Diggers). (Photo by Greg Russell)

Naptown Jammer Maiden America (playing for the Eager Beavers) attempts to pass Montreal’s Nameless Whorror (Clam Diggers). (Photo by Greg Russell)

Along with her recording career, Peaches has also made some movies, most notably the “electro rock opera” Peaches Does Herself. A sort of psychedelic memoir, it begins as a kind of portrait of the artist as a young women, in which the audience is introduced to a mythologized version of Peaches’ creation. It is, throughout, a celebration of the female body and a carnivalized romp through a woman’s sexual awakening and then experience. Through this process, the film also lays bare the constructed nature of human gender and sexuality, then defies those constraints as the film becomes more surreal and the desires and gender of the characters become more fluid.

I was at the world premiere of Peaches Does Herself, and I remember leaving the Bloor Hot Docs cinema that night convinced that Peaches was the most important woman in the world. She represented the avant garde of female identity in the 21st century: a super-empowered, hyper-sexual being who celebrated her body—all bodies!—with a wild glee.  She was, to put it simply, free to explore how she wanted to be a woman.

Of course, I know it is naïve to think of any performer as the most important anything in the world, yet I am still convinced that the very existence of someone like Peaches makes our world a better place to live.

And I could—and have—said the same about women’s flat track roller derby. Here’s a competitive game built and shaped by women in the midst of a sporting environment absolutely dominated by men. Here’s a game that has not only welcomed the LGBT community but celebrates it, has put it at the core of its growth and has allowed it to shape the nature and attitude of the game. Here’s a sport that has eschewed all traditional notions of what a sport is and how it should be, taken a punk-rock DIY approach and made it work on a national, then cross-border, and now global scale. Roller derby, like Peaches, has become a force of nature. And I think our world is a better place for it.

 

***For the record, the Clam Slam was once again a great success that produced two really, really entertaining games of roller derby. In the first, the Plaid Mafia used a late-game comeback to defeat Team Uhaul 194-178. In the second, the Eager Beavers held off a late charge by the Clam Diggers to record the 193-154 victory. Both games were boutcast live; watch the archives here.

WP Affiliate banner***Portions of this article were excerpted from a book-length work in progress***

Word on the Track: Skids Retain Top Spot; Clam Slam Rosters Revealed; First Cindy Davidson Cup Held!

AN INTERNATIONAL STORY AT ECDX

Montreal and Terminal City last met in 2010 at Toronto's first ever Quad City Chaos. Montreal won that showdown 160-55. (Photo by Derek Lang)

Montreal and Terminal City last met in 2010 at Toronto’s first ever Quad City Chaos. Montreal won that showdown 160-55. (Photo by Derek Lang)

Whatever way you look at it, Canadian roller derby is in the midst of a big year. With four teams currently sitting in D1 playoffs and another now ensconced in D2, the Canadian squads are set to build off of the surprises of last season when Toronto and Terminal City went on deep D1 playoff runs and Tri-City was a heartbreaking overtime clock mistake away from a potential berth in the D2 finals

On Saturday night at Philly’s ECDX, two of Canada’s big three faced off in a highly anticipated matchup that did not disappoint. Earlier this season, Toronto took its first swipe at Montreal and came within 17 points of upending the Skids (the score would not be as close in a rematch in Montreal a month later). This weekend, Vancouver’s Terminal City All Stars (25th to Montreal’s 16th) took their shot and came up as close, falling 199-177. Terminal stuck with the Skids through the whole game, but as it was with that Quad City Chaos showdown against Toronto, Montreal, while threatened, had that extra gear gained from so many hours competing at the upper echelons of the sport.

The rest of the weekend was a mixed bag for the Canadian entries. While Terminal City looked solid in decimating a slipping Boston (17th) 269-160, Montreal looked out of sorts against a surging Victorian (10th) from Melbourne who overwhelmed them 240-66. At their current rate, Victorian could be another international team to watch as they seem poised to join London at Champs this season.

Similarly, Team Canada took a slight step back against Team USA. At last year’s ECDX, Canada lost 252-72, a scoreline that surprised a lot of people. This year—with the World Cup only six months away—USA stepped up with a superior offensive performance (356 points) that overshadowed an impressive offensive outburst from Team Canada (90). It was, arguably, not Team Canada’s full A-roster, but it was pretty close and was one loaded with talent.

Nonetheless, Canadian teams continue to enjoy a growing spotlight, and while we may not have a team playing quite at the level that London and Victorian currently are, as a country we still have depth surpassed only by USA.

CLAM SLAM 6 SETS ALL-STAR ROSTERS

The 6th annual Clam Slam is just around the corner, but this year the stakes are even higher! Yes, for the second year in a row this will be a unified ToRDGTAR event, and, yes, for the second year in a row it will be at Ted ReeveClam Slam 2014 Poster Arena in Toronto’s east end, but this year’s Clam Slam  is a World Pride affiliate event! This is the first ever World Pride to be held in North America and festivities are already well underway in Toronto. Since this is the biggest Pride ever, it’s only fitting that this is the biggest Clam Slam ever!

Last year’s Clam Slam was a phenomenal event—featuring the best game of the five year history of the event, and this year promises to build off of that, with many players returning for the rematch.

As with last year, the Clam Slam will be a double header featuring two games, opening with an intermediate level bout featuring skaters from Ontario (and one skater from Montreal). Leagues represented include the hosts ToRD and GTAR, but also Hammer City, Renegade Derby Dames, Rollergettes, Northumberland Roller Girls, Kingston Derby Girls, Nickel City (Sudbury), Durham Region Roller Derby, Tri-City, and Royal City.

The advanced-level game will be hard pressed to live up to the level of last year’s thrilling match, but its got the talent level to do so. Loaded with Canadian and American All Stars, the main event should be incredibly fast paced. The Eager Beavers feature local stalwarts such as Nasher the Smasher, Fox Smoulder, Ruby Puby (AKA: ToRD’s Bellefast) and Bouche, but will also feature the return of three Naptown skaters Maiden America, Trudy Bauchery and Eve Ann Hellical. Fans will also get to see Tri-City’s Sofonda Snatch (AKA: Sofonda Beatin) who recently returned from injury.

The Clam Diggers respond with a pretty impressive rosters of their own, featuring the likes of ToRD’s Dyna Vagina (AKA: Dyna Hurtcha) and Matchu Eatchu (Matchu Beatchu), but also Clam Slam regulars Mirambo (Forest City) and Nameless Whorror (Montreal—who will be joined on the Diggers this year by leaguemate La Planche). Plus, Toronto derby fans will also get a chance to welcome Rainbow Fight back to the track after a long injury lay off.

The Clam Slam will be at Ted Reeve Arena on Thursday with the opening game starting at 6:30 PM and the second at 8:00 PM.

If you aren’t close enough to catch the game, you can still watch the Clam Slam! Both games will be boutcast live by the ToRD.TV crew and hosted here, by Layer9.ca.

**Full rosters are listed at the bottom of the post.

FIRST CINDY DAVIDSON CUP HELD

Cindy Davidson Cup PosterThis weekend, the first ever Cindy Davidson Cup was held in Walkerton, Ontario. Called “Crushing the Big C,” the event featured a junior scrimmage followed by a full flat track game. The rosters featured many familiar faces to those in the derby community including skaters from Durham Region (Lous Ur Pants/Lucid Lou, TRUCK, Yogi Dare Ya), Northumberland Roller Girls (Provokenator, Chronic Carnage), Grey Bruce (Scary Queen, Anita AllyBy), Misfit Militia (Terry Bomb, Bee Bee MaGee), Renegade Derby Dames (Ethyl A Mean, Daemon Star), and Fergus (Steph-a-hani, Eager Beaver), among many others!

For the record, C Crush beat Pink Power 336-113, but the result was secondary to the event itself, a charity event with proceeds going to the Grey-Bruce Health Services Oncology Expansion and Wes for Youth Online.

Cindy Davidson, known as Mama Kal-Hell by the Northumberland Roller Girls, has been bravely chronicling her “cancer thing” (her words) on her blog “Aside from Cancer, I never Get Sick.” It is quite an astonishing blog—raw, moving, detailed. It provides a remarkably clear, yet sometimes wrenching, glimpse into the life of a cancer patient.

All accounts suggest that this weekend’s event was a great success, so keep an eye out for it next year, as it just may become an annual event.

Read Cindy’s blog here. More information about the event can be found here.

2014 Clam Slam Rosters

GAME 1:

Team Uhaul Team Plaid Mafia
League DERBY NAME NUMBER League DERBY NAME NUMBER
ToRD Straight Bait 23 Kingston Flaming Hips 40
HCRG Hardcore Lolo 213 GTAR Cunning Linguist 42
ToRD G-STRINGER 312 Nickel City Nellie McStung 73
HCRG Pretty Fishy 314 MTLRD La Grande Noirceur 78
Nothumberland Betty BOOM 321 GTAR Mashes to Ashes 88
ToRD Vagina Dentata 422 ToRD Sleeper Hold 213
HCRG Smashin’ Good Time 519 Tri-City Tits Tits Tits 480
Renegade Riot Rhythm 524 ToRD Beej 831
Nothumberland Natural Dezzaster 911 PRD Jaxalottapus 3953
GTAR Pepper Pot 917 ToRD SewButt 525S
GTAR Dirty Daddy’s Kitten 6969 ToRD Map of Tasmania 5BY5
Rollergettes KALI 4NK8 Tri-City Badger 6P
HCRG M.I gay 9MM ToRD Miss Andry B0TM
Rollergettes Whoreschach DSM5 DRRD extermi-knitter K2P6
ToRD Heavy Petter K1 Royal City Scream Queen O84
GTAR COMMANDER BOX X3 ToRD VAGilante X0X0

 

GAME 2:

Eager Beavers Clam Diggers
League DERBY NAME NUMBER League DERBY NAME NUMBER
Niagara Lock N Roll 0 ToRD Dyna Vagina 21
Naptown Eve Anne Hellical 316 ToRD Bi-Furious 31
Tri-City Psykosonic 4 HCRG Rock E. Road 52
ToRD Rebel Rock-This 7 Forest City MIRAMBO 69
Tri-City AnneXXX 14 ToRD Hoe Hoe Hoe NO! 111
ToRD Rosemary’s Gayby 15 HCRG Homewrecken Holly 187
ToRD Bouche 26 MTLRD Nameless Whorror 202
GTAR SoFearMe 52 ToRD Just Jes 510
ToRD Hoff 65 GTAR NEWFIE BULLET 709
Naptown Maiden America 76 ToRD Machu Eatchu 747
Tri-City Sofonda Snatch 420 Tri-City Fraxxure 911
ToRD ThünderKünt 867 DRRD/PRD Lous ur pants 1234
Tri-City Fox 1013 ToRD Ames to Please 2or3
Tri-City MW 1321 HCRG Cancer Candy 3BUX
ToRD Ruby Pubie 5678 DRRD Psy-Show-Bob 46N2
Niagara Axel La Rose 15H0 MTLRD La Planche 61X

Canadian Power Rankings: June 1, 2014

Captain Lou El Bammo, Dick Pounder, Dr. Jenny Fever and Derby Nerd rank Canada’s top A-level travel teams every two months. Read the April 1st Power Rankings here.

TEAM (League) CHANGE NOTES (Rollergirl.ca /WFTDA rank)
1. New Skids on the Block (Montreal Roller Derby)

Montreal Roller Derby: New Skids on the Block

By the narrowest of margins, the Skids retain top spot. They got roughed up against stiff competition on a recent West Coast road trip, but have also picked up victories over Boston and, most importantly, a 63-point win over a Toronto team that had pushed them to the limit earlier in the season. An ECDX matchup with prime contenders Terminal City is looming. (/ 12).
2. Terminal City All Stars (Terminal City Roller Girls)Terminal City All Stars +1 Vancouver has completely swapped places with Toronto, and as CN Power did earlier in the season, Terminal City seems on the verge of knocking the Skids off of top spot. Terminal City had a rough time against top competition at the Tinseltown Showdown, but looked strong in defeat, and used the experience to roll over their competition at the Big O (including a narrow win over the Oly Rollers, a team who also narrowly beat Montreal). (1 / 37)
3.CN Power (Toronto Roller Derby)New CNP Logo -1 After an explosive end to 2013 and a surging start to 2014, Toronto seemed to take its foot of the gas for a bit, suffering some big losses on a nine-game losing streak. However, they seem to have begun to pull themselves back up, rattling off three-straight wins, including one-sided victories over Cincinnati and Jet City at Spring Roll. They’ve slipped just below Vancouver and Montreal, but remain well above the rest of the competition. (3 / 23)
4. Tri-City Thunder (Tri-City Roller Derby)Tri-City Thunder Logo  The Thunder have had an up-and-down 2014, sporting a 5-7 record based on some inconsistent wins/losses. However, they went 2-2 with a tough schedule at Spring Roll and notched victories over Glasgow and Big Easy. They remain on the cusp of the WFTDA D1 playoffs; it’s going to come down to the wire. (6 / 40)
5. Rideau Valley Vixens (Rideau Valley Roller Girls)

Vixens Logo

Despite massive league-overhauls and the rebuilding of the house league, the Vixens continue to roll along fairly consistently. They are undefeated so far in 2014 (4-0) and are currently on a three-game WFTDA winning streak with victories over DC, Maine, and Roc City. A D-2 playoff spot is tantalizingly within reach. (5 / 64)
6.The Eh! Team (Hammer City Roller Girls)Hammer City Logo +2 (8)  Hammer City has picked up 2014 right where they left off 2013: surging up the WFTDA rankings. They made another recent 11-spot jump based on solid performances in losses to higher ranked teams in Fort Wayne, Bleeding Heartland and Paper Valley. A D2 playoff spot may be out of reach for this season, but the steady improvements show that it is just a matter of time. (10 / 78)

7.Calgary All Stars (Calgary Roller Derby Association)

Calgary All Stars Logo

-1 (6)  While Calgary has a busy summer ahead, they’ve been relatively quiet since the last rankings, with only one closer-than-expected victory over the Kannibelles to base our opinions on. However, this remains a team to watch. (11 / 91)
8. Misfit Militia (Misfit Militia Roller Derby)
Misfit Militia Logo
-1 (7) Things have gone silent from the Militia recently as well, and the dearth of top-level competition scheduled for them this summer means that they will not have much of a body of work to base a ranking on. They are a team loaded with talent, but without much of a competitive push, they slip a spot in the rankings. (8 / – )
9. Sugar Skulls (Pile O’ Bones Derby Club)Sugar Skulls Derby LOGO (-)  Welcome back to the party Regina! Last seen in these parts in August of last year, the team returns to the Top 10 on the back of a 5-2 record and impressive wins over former Top 10ers in the Mind Fox and most impressively the Kannibelles (194-80) at Spokarnage. (12 / -)
10. Les Duchesses (Roller Derby Quebec)Duchesses Logo  It’s about time to stop underestimating this team, and really, this league as a whole. While they have yet to face off against truly high level competition this season, they have absolutely destroyed everyone they have faced. They’ve also had considerable success at the house league level showing that this is a travel team with a truly solid foundation. An upcoming home-and-home series against bubble team Muddy River could solidify this spot in the Top 10. (14 / – )

Pile O' Bones LogoThis month’s Power Rankings were defined by long discussions and some tough decisions. As with Toronto at the end of last season and beginning of this one, Vancouver’s Terminal City could arguably have stolen the top spot and has now emerged as the greatest threat to Montreal’s long-time dominance of Canadian roller derby. Terminal City was able to narrowly defeat the Oly Rollers, only to have Montreal fall to the former champs from Olympia a week later. However, taking into considering some roster changes and other factors we’ve got Montreal (barely) holding on to Top Spot. Currently, there seems to be zero statistical difference between these two teams. Luckily for Canadian derby fans, the two teams themselves will solve this debate when they meet at ECDX later this month.

Toronto rounds out the top three remaining well ahead of Tri-City and Rideau Valley (who round out the Top 5). One thing the Rankings Crew has noted is that the top three teams in Canada are currently well above the competition, humming along at a completely different level right now than anyone else in the country. All three teams have played, quite literally, the best there is in the world this season, which is keeping them at that heightened competitive level.

Tri-City and Rideau Valley also led to quite a bit of debate in rounding out the Top 5, as the Thunder have waned ever-so slightly while the Vixens just seem to be heating up. However, Tri-City holds its spot based on the calibre of competition they have been facing. Hammer City, Calgary and Misfit Militia juggle spots a bit in the middle but remain solidly in position, but things have changed at the bottom.

Regina’s Sugar Skulls (representing the Pile O’ Bones Derby Club) returns to the Top 10 after nearly a year-long absence, quite literally knocking the Kannibelles out of the Top 10 with their victory over them at Spokarnage.

ON THE BUBBLE

Lumbersmacks (Muddy River Rollers)

Anarchy Angels (Mainland Misfits)

Kootenay Kannibelles (West Kootenay Roller Derby)

Moncton’s Lumbersmacks remain on the bubble, but are now joined by a handful of other teams. The Kannibelles find themselves here after just barely slipping out of the Top 10; the Anarchy Angels have been on our radar for quite some time, and are still under scrutiny but have yet to face (or defeat) a high-enough level of competition to make the leap.

TEAMS TO WATCH

Eville Logo

All Stars (Winnipeg Roller Derby League)

E-Ville Dead (E-Ville Roller Derby)

Belladonnas (Red Deer Roller Derby Association)

Arch Angels (St. Albert Heavenly Rollers)

 

As the season wears on, the Crew has narrowed its Teams to Watch list. Winnipeg has been on this list for quite a while, and we’re just waiting to see how they respond to some stiffer competition than they have currently faced. The Belladonnas have been perennial Top 10ers, but some roster changes and uncertainty have caused them to slip; nonetheless, they remain on the radar. On the other side of the coin is E-Ville Dead: once considered a top team in the nation, the league has gone through a bit of a rebuild but is beginning to climb once again. Also jumping onto the radar after a second-place performance at Flat Track Fever are St. Albert’s Arch Angels.

 

*These rankings were compiled by the Derby Nerd, Captain Lou El Bammo, Dick Pounder, and Dr. Jenny Fever.

*Read the Canadian Power Rankings preview and explanation here.

 

-Respectful disagreement and debate is encouraged!-

Gore-Gore Rollergirls Prove to be the Beastliest at BOE 2014

Gores become first Toronto team to win the Beast of the East at Montreal’s seventh edition of the popular tournament.

The Gore-Gore Rollergirls moments after the final whistle in the championship game. It was the first Beast win for a ToRD team. (Photography by Joe Mac)

The Gore-Gore Rollergirls moments after the final whistle in the championship game. It was the first Beast win for a ToRD team. (Photography by Joe Mac)

It has become quite a tradition that every spring, roller derby nerds in eastern Canada dutifully fill out their Beast of the East brackets. Some will even work out a few different versions based on hunches, hot teams, or un-hittable skaters.

Every year, without fail, by the end of the tournament, it becomes obvious that filling out this bracket is an exercise in futility.

2014 was no different, indeed it was the most unbracketable Beast in a long line of unbracketable Beasts, a testament to the format—beginning with a sixteen team double elimination round featuring 20 minute games—and the participants—house league teams with little inter-city experience and little data on which to base these matchups. It’s also just one of the myriad reasons why people have fallen in love with Montreal Roller Derby’s annual Beast of the East tournament, and why that affection grows year after year.

Very few prognosticators had picked Toronto’s Gore-Gore Rollergirls to win it all, a team that had failed to live up to high expectations in the past, and fewer still (IE: NOT ONE) saw their opponent in the final, Roller Derby Quebec’s Casse-Gueules, doing anything but providing great warm-up games for the true contenders in the early going. Power house teams were eliminated early (Les Contrabanditas), pre-tournament favourites fell in the quarterfinals (Death Track Dolls) and heart rates went through the roof as game after game after game came down to final jams, or even overtime when final jams just weren’t enough.

DOUBLE ELIMINATION ROUND

Forest City's Luscious Lunch Ladies provided one of the biggest surprises of the tournament: it took a Riot Squad overtime jam to finally knock them off.

Forest City’s Luscious Lunch Ladies provided one of the biggest surprises of the tournament: it took a Riot Squad overtime jam to finally knock them off.

The tournament kicked off with what everyone at the time thought was a pretty major upset, a last-gasp Casse-Gueules win over ToRD’s Smoke City Betties (54-49). It turns out that game was just an omen for what was to come: tight games and unexpected results.

There were a few blowouts, but even those turned heads (La Racaille’s 117-32 against a Riot Squad team that was playing its first games with a newly built roster), but for the most part, the games were close. The Smoke City Betties, Durham Region’s Motor City Madames (to their leagumates the Atom Smashers), Forest City’s Thames Fatales and Guelph’s Killer Queens all went two-and-done; meanwhile, led by ToRD’s Gore-Gore Rollergirls and Death Track Dolls, the surprising Casse-Gueules and Lunch Ladies (neither team having ever won a game in this tournament previously) won their first two games to book a spot directly in the quarterfinals.

The “must-win” elimination games that closed out day one just hinted at the thrilling action that would come. The surprising Atom Smashers (after a head-turning matchup against Les Filles du Roi and a 100-point performance in their second game) stuck around for half the game against La Racaile, before the veteran Montreal skaters pulled away in the end, ending the tournament for one of the “dark horse” picks of the tournament; the Riot Squad finally started to get it together by nearly doubling up FDR, while their two Rideau Valley leaguemates had to square off with the Prime Sinisters (led by their incredible one-two punch of Margaret Choke and Brennan) knocking out the defending champion (but totally rebuilt) Slaughter Daughters. Finally Quebec’s Rouge et Gore played strong late, shocking hosts Les Contrabanditas with a last jam comeback to move on to the quarter finals for the second year in a row.

KNOCKOUT ROUND

Rideau Valley's Prime Sinisters were the quarterfinal victims of Casse-Gueules impressive run.

Rideau Valley’s Prime Sinisters were the quarterfinal victims of Casse-Gueules impressive run.

Quarterfinals

The first three quarterfinal games provided one of the most exciting runs in Beast of the East history, beginning with the Casse-Gueules overcoming a bad late-game decision (when they called it off early) to hold off a surging Prime Sinisters, 50-46. In the second game, the Luscious Lunch Ladies, led by Team France jammer Pepe Le Punch, mounted a final jam 20-point comeback to force overtime (the first in BOE history), but had little left in the extra jam as the Riot Squad locked down the defense and won by 9. The Death Track Dolls never seemed to get into their game against a hungry La Racaille, and while their talent kept it close for the most part, they fell by 25 (86-61) in the end.

Finally, in an all-Gores matchup, Toronto’s Gores managed to hold on long enough despite a desperate push from the tireless Rouge et Gore out of Quebec (they skated with eight players for much of the tournament and stuck with a two jammer [!!] rotation of Nana Bistouri and Minnie Small for all four games). The Rouge et Gore’s Bistouri made three passes in the final 40 seconds, but Gore’s jammer Beaver made the one scoring pass necessary to book her team’s first spot in the final four since 2011 (64-61).

Semifinals

The semifinals picked up right where the previous round left off. Casse-Gueules showed once again that their performance in the tournament had little to do with luck and a lot to with preparation, and held off a Riot Squad team that visibly got stronger as the weekend went on, while the Rideau Valley team mounted a late-game push, they seemingly mistakenly called the final jam off with no-time left on the game clock (and about 50 seconds left on the jam clock) and down 75-68. The other semifinal was yet another last-jam nail biter, with the Gore-Gore Rollergirls coming back from nearly 20 down in the final two jams (they were down by 32 at one point) to shock the tournament’s most successful team historically, La Racaille, 68-67.

In the six playoff games leading up to the medal matchups, the combined point differential at the end of the regulation time was a paltry 40 points (more than half of that coming from one game). It was an extraordinary show of parity.

The Gore-Gore Rollergirls and the Casse-Gueules provided and intense, back and forth final.

The Gore-Gore Rollergirls and the Casse-Gueules provided and intense, back-and-forth final.

Finals

The final games (now played with two 20-minute halves) did not disappoint. La Racaille picked up its fifth medal in seven tournaments with a 148-131 win, and they were led by long-time skater K Dawg (who has been a member of La Racaille since the first BOE in 2008) and captain Russion Cruelette in the pack, with Legs//Cite and Falcon Punch leading the way with the star. Riot Squad (being rebuilt around a core of former Slaughter Daughter skaters including Sister Disaster, Hannah Murphy and Amanda Pummeler), really came together as the games went on (as did the other two Rideau Valley teams for that matter).

The final between the upstart Casse and the relentless Gores was also thrilling, tied 71 at half time, the Casse led for much of the game only to see the Gores roar back time and time again. The Casse were led in the pack by Feline Dion, Lady Mariane, and So Viet, with Beat’on The Quads, La Trappeuse and Booty Allen providing the jamming. Gores captain Santa Muerte fouled out 16 minutes into the first half, but instead of collapsing, the Gores thrived under the adversity, getting clutch jamming from a deep rotation (LumberJack Flash, Beaver Mansbridge, R.I. Pink, Guardian Paingel, and Taranasaurus Rex), and phenomenal on-track leadership from veteran Chronic and first-year transfer skater Machu Beatchu. All weekend long, the Gores showed an overwhelming, sometimes frantic, hunger that kept them in tight games late; they saved their most-calm performance of the weekend for late in the championship game, holding on for the 129-114 victory.

NERD’s PICKS

Machu Beatchu receives her MVP medallion from Plastic Patrick.

Machu Beatchu receives her Team MVP medallion from Plastic Patrick.

MVP: Machu Beatchu (Gore-Gore Rollergirls)

Playing in her first Beast, the Halifax-trained skater turned heads with her wonderful skating and incredibly aggressive blocking. Named Gores MVP as well, Machu is a young player with a bright future. Her play in the pack (not to mention as a capable relief jammer) intensified as the tournament progressed, and she was flat-out dominant in the final game.

*Honourable mentions to Beat’on The Quads, Chronic, Feline Dion, Legs//Cite, and Hannah Murphy.

Breakout Player: Beat’on The Quads (Casse-Gueules)

A phenomenal jammer, with surprising lower body strength, Beat’on The Quads was the captain of the most impressive (and consistent) team in the tournament. As a jammer, she was tireless, capable of pulling off back-to-backs and holding it together in clutch situations: nursing a slim lead, she actually mistakenly called off what could have been the final jam with time left on the clock in a must-win against the Sinisters, but, unfazed, went right back out, nabbed lead and calmly tapped her hips. It was a defining moment for a team that came of age this weekend.

*Honourable mentions to Feline Dion, Lumberjack Flash, and BlackeyE.

Photo by Joe Mac

No one outside of Quebec City saw the Casse-Gueules making it all the way to the final; the most surprising team in a tournament of surprises.

Breakout Team: Casse-Gueules (Roller Derby Quebec)

What’s left to say about a team that came in so-far under the radar that they were barely mentioned and yet managed to win four games in a row to make it all the way to the final? Last year it was Casse’s leaguemates Rouge et Gore who took home this prize, and this year roller derby fans were once again reminded of the quality organization that is Roller Derby Quebec.

*Honourable mentions to Luscious Lunch Ladies, Atom Smashers.

***This year’s Beast of the East was filmed by CUTV, who managed to come in on short notice, with no prior sports or derby experience, and did a fantastic job.

 

Nerd to Release First Work of Fiction; Launch Dates Set for Toronto, Tri-City

The Nerd takes a moment for some shameless self promotion of book launches set for April 16 in Toronto and April 17 in Waterloo.

Writing as D.D. Miller, the Nerd's first book of fiction will be released in April. Roller Derby figures prominently in the title story.

Writing as D.D. Miller, the Nerd’s first book of fiction will be launched on April 16 in Toronto and the next night in Waterloo. Those old blue roller skates on the cover play a significant role in the book.

As some of you may have known, the Derby Nerd doesn’t just write about roller derby; I also write fiction as D.D. Miller.

Next week, my first work of fiction, a short story collection called David Foster Wallace Ruined My Suicide and Other Stories, will be published by Wolsak & Wynn (through its new Buckrider Books imprint).

This book has been a long time coming and features a wide variety of stories all dealing in some way with the vagaries of life in the early 21st century. Of course, roller derby played a part in the writing of the book—as it does in most aspects of my life—but it has a particularly large role in the title story.

The title story is about a character who has a brief, but to him intense, relationship with a significantly younger girl with whom he has remained obsessed, to the point where he’s found a lookalike online cam girl replacement for her. The second obsession that he has is with replacing a David Foster Wallace book that he’d lent to her and never gotten back. Eventually, he discovers that she has become a roller girl and goes to see her play:

“The Toronto Roller Derby League played its games north of the city in the Hangar in Downsview Park. It was a massive space, with huge windows that spread the late-evening summer sunshine across the hard concrete floor and the round track in the middle. Metal bleachers lined the track and they were full of a strange mix of people: punks and jocks and grandmothers and children, hipsters, nerds, a whole posse of women on a stagette. Loud rock and roll blared from speakers sprinkled among the bleachers, and a mohawked man in a slim suit and skinny tie prowled the zone between the track and the seats, stepping over and around the people who sat on the floor lining the track. He yelled into the mic, his face beet red and eyes gleaming: I could barely make out what he said. The louder he got, the louder the crowd got.”

**You can listen to me read from this particular section of the book at the 14:25 mark of this interview I did recently on CIUT’s (89.5) Howl radio show.**

The Toronto launch is set for April 16 at the Gladstone.

The Toronto launch is set for April 16 at the Gladstone.

For those derby people “in the know” there are a lot of “insider” references specifically for you in this story but there is also some “literary license” taken (for example, in this story, ToRD was playing in the Hangar in 2008—they didn’t actually move there until 2009).

While I will be making appearances across the country throughout the summer and fall (stay tuned!), there are a few specific launch dates set for Toronto and Tri-City (Waterloo specifically).

First up, for those in the GTA, I’ll be launching at the Gladstone Hotel on Wednesday, April 16, 2014, with doors opening at 7:00 PM. This is NOT going to be your typical stuffy literary affair: we’re hoping it will turn into a raucous celebratory party! For more information, check here.

The very next night, I’ll be in Waterloo at Words Worth Books. This will be a (slightly) quieter event, but refreshments will be served!. Check here for further details.

In both cases, I’d love to see roller derby take over these events! You guys have actually read more of my writing than anyone else (for which I am perpetually and eternally grateful), and would love to see some of you there! Thanks! And once again, apologies for the shameless self-promotion!

**For a further preview of the book, read this interview I did about writing and roller derby with Open Book Toronto.

**Also, for those in Toronto who can’t make the launch, I’ll also be reading on April 23rd at the Press Club as part of the Pivot Reading Series.

lanch date ain Waterloo set for apirl 17

The book will launch at Words Worth Books in Waterloo on April 17th.