Recap

Toronto Teams Go 6-0 at a Thrilling 2015 Quad City Chaos

Toronto proved to be ungracious hosts on the track, sweeping both the A and B-team portions of an extraordinarily exciting tournament.

The 2015 QCC featured incredibly close action, with an average differential of 36 points in the six D1 games.

The 2015 QCC featured incredibly close action, with an average differential of 36 points in the six D1 games. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Early on in Toronto Roller Derby’s 6th annual Quad City Chaos, the dominant narrative looked as if it would the upsets, but as they games progressed that story was tweaked and what emerged was a tournament dominated by parity, at least on the A-team level, with the average point-differential over the six-game round robin tournament being a measly 36 points, with most (if not all) of the games looking like they could have gone either way. The widest gap of the weekend was a 55-point Toronto win over Boston that was actually much closer than even the score would indicate, evidenced by the seven lead changes that occurred in the game (although they all did occur in the opening half). It was an extraordinary bit of scheduling for the organizers from Toronto Roller Derby, so much so that all of the teams can leave feeling pretty happy about their results.

DIVISION 1 GAMES

An expected CN Power rebuild looks more like a rebirth after a 3-0 weekend. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

An expected CN Power rebuild looks more like a rebirth after a 3-0 weekend. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

One of the questions coming into the game was how a rebuilding Toronto roster would perform against three WFTDA D1 teams whose rosters remained relatively intact from the 2014 season; by the end of the weekend, it was clear that this CN Power team is going through a rebirth more than a rebuild: with a new jammer rotation and a completely new bench staff, Toronto actually looked reenergized and refocused after a somewhat bland 2014 season in which the team appeared to have plateaued. Bolstered by some experienced transfers and a core of internally developed skaters who represent the first wave of graduates of the B-team program, Toronto seems ready for a competitive push up the D1 rankings this season. It was the first time since 2012 (and only the second time ever) that 28th ranked Toronto has gone 3-0 at their own tournament, holding their rankings against the Rideau Valley Vixens (39th) and (29th) Steel City, while upsetting 25th ranked Boston.

Rideau Valley (1-2 on the weekend) also has to be incredibly happy with the results. With the same roster that brought them all the way to the WFTDA D2 championship last year, the Vixens continue to defy expectations and climb the ladder with a team whose core has been together for years now. The Ottawa-based team played above their rankings on the weekend, looking every-bit the equal to all of their opponents. Kicking off the tournament with a significant upset over Steel City, the Vixens gave Toronto all the hosts could handle on Saturday night in a game that featured an incredible eleven lead changes (including nine in the opening half), but as they did all weekend, Toronto seemed to get stronger deep into games and Rideau couldn’t replicate the upset they managed the last time the teams squared off at QCC 2013. The Vixens had a remarkably similar result against Boston, a game in which they could not maintain their intensity through to the end, but looked strong throughout.

Boston jammer Maya Mangleyou duels with Toronto's Renny Rumble while Lil Paine looks on. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Boston jammer Maya Mangleyou duels with Toronto’s Renny Rumble while Lil Paine looks on. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Boston (2-1) had an up and down weekend. Although they went nose-to-nose with Toronto for the first half of their Saturday showdown, the hosts pulled ahead early in the second, and Boston simply could not catch them. But the loss seemed to charge the team up, and after a shaky start against Steel City, managed to pull ahead of Pittsburgh at the midway point of the first half and held off their opponents through to the end; it was a similar performance against Rideau Valley on Sunday.

Steel City (0-3) went winless on the weekend, although they certainly didn’t seem like a team defeated and led for portions of all of their games; the difference early on in the 2015 season seemed to be consistency and focus for this Steel Hurtin’ team that had a hard time maintaining momentum. In particular, Pittsburgh led for much of the second half against Toronto, but could not put the team away, and CN Power patiently held on, eventually blowing by Steel Hurtin’ over a dominant final five minutes.

Despite the results, all four teams leave the 2015 Quad City Chaos having certainly improved their position in the WFTDA’s ranking system, showing that despite some criticism to the contrary, all things being equal, the ranking system rewards close, evenly matched games.

REGULATION GAMES

Rideau Valley's Sirens and Toronto's Bay Street Bruisers faced off for the first time ever. (Photo by Joe Mac)

Rideau Valley’s Sirens and Toronto’s Bay Street Bruisers faced off for the first time ever. (Photo by Joe Mac)

We didn’t see quite the parity in the B-team portion of the tournament, as the Bay Street Bruisers continued a three-year unbeaten streak (7-0) at the event with an at times dominant run through the competition (including a 250-point rout of the Steel Beamers). However, the hosts were certainly challenged against the B-Party, with Boston leading for the vast majority of the game, and virtually the whole second half. But they could not put the hosts away, with the Bruisers managing to stay within 20 for most of the game. And then in the final moments, they surged past their Boston counterparts for the most thrilling, not to mention closest, result of the weekend: a 4-point win that highlighted the perseverance of Toronto’s B-team.

THE PERFORMERS

Steel City's Nick Rollfiliac (seen here staying a step ahead of Boston's Ginger Kid) was named blocker MVP. (Photo by Joe Mac)

Steel City’s Nick Rollfiliac (seen here staying a step ahead of Boston’s Ginger Kid) was named blocker MVP. (Photo by Joe Mac)

On a weekend where there was barely anything separating the competition on the track, choosing MVPs was a challenging feat that lead to some interesting (but certainly always deserving) choices. Both Toronto and Boston’s packs were dominant at times, and pulling one out of the cohesive units was impossible, so it was Steel City’s relentless Nick Rollfiliac who took the honours as A-team blocker MVP. Most of the jammers also had a hard time maintaining consistency over the course of the weekend, but in the end it was Soul Rekker’s tireless play over all three games that led to her selection of MVP. Boston B-Party blocker MC SlamHer took home MVP for the regulation portion along side Bruisers’ jammer Devochka who had three strong, clean and consistent games for the hosts.

THE PENALTIES

Early on in the tournament, during the first B-team game, there were over 100 penalties called, filling the board and leading to large stretches of chaos on the track. It became, momentarily, a thrilling anomaly, with pictures of the white board snapped and buzz spreading from the venue and onto social media; but then, it quickly became clear that this was actually going to be close to a norm for the weekend, and the giddy buzz dissipated. Not only that, there were murmurs on social media indicating that early in 2015 this is a trend certainly not limited to the Quad City Chaos.

I write this not as a criticism of the officiating (the ref crew was staffed with some of the finest, highest certified refs in the region), but just to point out the apparent disconnect between the way the game is being officiated right now and the way it is being played on the track; it was, for some, as fascinating as it was frustrating, but it is clear that something’s got to give. It is reminiscent of the way things were leading up to the elimination of minors.

In sports, the roles of the officials are generally to ensure safety and fairness; in roller derby there is also a third, punitive arm to officiating; however, we’ve started to move away from this (with the slight relaxing of inadvertent cutting penalties, for example), but there still seems to be genuine confusion at times on behalf of the skaters on impact assessment but also on failure to return/reform penalties that were often called in rapid-fire succession against multiple players simultaneously, making it challenging (and confusing) for skaters to quickly and clearly reform (for example, there were twenty two out of play penalties called in the Toronto vs. Steel City game (and 116 penalties in total), leading to multiple instances of only four, three, or even just two blockers on the track). Historically, the WFTDA has shown the willingness and ability to cautiously evolve over time, and certainly these issues will be resolved. But in a time when the new norm seems to be 80, 90, and even 100 penalties in a game, there is a conversation that needs to happen, and it should be a constructive one, because I think everyone (officials and skaters alike) would agree that the current norm is not sustainable.

Nonetheless, the consistency with which calls were made across teams and games did mean that the parity between the clubs still won out in the end, providing the spectators with thrilling games and narrow results despite of the steady stream of skaters to the penalty box.

Quad City Chaos 2015 Banner

WFTDA DIVISION 1 RESULTS

Steel City Roller Derby (Steel Hurtin’) (29th) 142 vs. Rideau Valley Roller Girls (Vixens) (39th) 165 (watch)

Boston Derby Dames (Boston Massacre) (25th) 174 vs. Toronto Roller Derby (CN Power) (28th) 229 (watch)

Boston 169 vs. Steel City 127 (watch)

Toronto 186 vs. Rideau Valley 154 (watch)

Boston 182 vs. Rideau Valley 159 (watch)

Toronto 235 vs. Steel City 191 (watch)

REGULATION RESULTS

Bay Street Bruisers 253 vs. Rideau Valley Sirens 144 (watch)

Bay Street Bruisers 184 vs. Boston B-Party 180 (watch)

Bay Street Bruisers 319 vs. Steel Beamers 69 (watch)

Nerd Glasses

 

**The games were streamed live by layer9.ca, with Saturday night’s games and the final game on Sunday simulcast on WFTDA.TV. Watch the archives here.

**Toronto Roller Derby skater Pr’Editor provided game-by-game recaps for Derby Central all weekend. You can read her work here.

Weekend Round Up: Dolls Edge Betties to Close Out ToRD Regular Season on Busy Night in Canadian Derby

The Dolls wrapped up second spot in the regular season standings with the victory over the Betties. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

The Dolls wrapped up second spot in the regular season standings with the victory over the Betties. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

The Canadian roller derby season truly got underway this weekend with teams clear across the nation in action. In Toronto, ToRD closed out its house league regular season with a highly anticipated showdown between the defending champion Death Track Dolls and the Smoke City Betties. Tied in the standings heading into the game, the Dolls clinched second spot and a bye to the semifinals with a tense 175-138 victory that was not sewn up until the final moments of the second half. The Betties will now face off against the Chicks Ahoy! in a second-chance quarterfinal matchup.

Dolls' rookie jammer PrEditor had a breakout game. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Dolls’ rookie jammer PrEditor had a breakout game. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

The Dolls led from start to finish, but the 37-point differential in the end was actually the largest lead of the game. There was some concern over the Dolls’ jammer rotation coming into this one: with veteran blocker Dawson out after an off-track injury, Scarcasm slipped from the rotation back into the pack leaving rookies PrEditor and Common Dominator with a bulk of the track time, but the first-year jammers did not disappoint, with PrEditor in particular skating a break-out performance with the star. But it was the more experienced jammers, Devochka and especially Sleeper Hold, who were the difference makers in this one.

It was tight at the start, with the Betties countering with their usual jammer rotation of the jukey Wolverina, WackerHer, Kil’Her At Large and the tireless Smoka Cola; it wasn’t until seven minutes into the opening half when a Dolls’ power jam let them pull ahead 29-7 that either team seemed to make a move. But whenever the Dolls threatened to pull away, the Betties responded, and the biggest lead of the half (30 points with ten to go) was whittled back down to 12 points after a 23-0 Betties run. The teams traded leads and points the rest of the way with the Dolls ahead narrowly, 93-83, at the break.

Betties' pivot LowBlowPalooza had another strong game (blocking here with Genuine Risk and Mazel Tough). (Photo by Greg Russell)

Betties’ pivot LowBlowPalooza had another strong game (blocking here with Genuine Risk and Mazel Tough). (Photo by Greg Russell)

A late-half collision between the Dolls’ Hannibelle and the Betties’ Honey Boom Boom, saw Boom bloodied and taken out of the game, a huge loss for the Betties’ pack, who got strong performances from the usual suspects including SewWhat? and Tushy Galore (not to mention another monster performance from LowBlowPalooza), but were also debuting rookie Juggernaut J and saw first games of the year for Jenny Spector and Genuine Risk. The Dolls’ packs took advantage of the comparative lack of experience with two solid lines held down by offensive-blocking leader Getcha Kicks, Stringer Belle and Scarcasm on one side and Robotomy and Hannibelle on the other, but also welcomed to the track converted referee Lace Frehley in her Dolls’ debut.

The Dolls held the lead for the opening five minutes of the second before the Betties put forth their most sustained offensive push of the game, going on a 22-3 run over the next ten minutes to pull within 3, down 117-114, nearing the midway point of the second.

Betties' jammer Smoka Cola and Dolls' jammer Sleeper Hold duel in the second half. (Photo by Greg Russell)

Betties’ jammer Smoka Cola and Dolls’ jammer Sleeper Hold duel in the second half. (Photo by Greg Russell)

In the end, you could boil the difference in the game down to two things: match-ups and discipline. First off, the Dolls played one of the cleanest games in recent ToRD history, picking up a total of eighteen penalties (and no jammer penalties, to the Betties’ four), while they also made subtle matchup adjustments throughout the game. Both of these things were the in play at the turning point of the game.

Throughout the first half, Smoke Cola had often found herself matched up against the Dolls’ rookie jammers, and the experienced jammer took advantage (including picking up lead on her first five jams); however, in the second half, Smoka could barely move an inch without Dolls’ more experienced Sleeper Hold stuck to her side, and it was a shift that worked: with the Betties threatening and within three points, Sleeper was actively involved in drawing a cut on Smoka Cola to give the Dolls a crucial power jam and letting them pull away. Another power jam on the final jam sealed the deal and allowed the Dolls to hold on for the statement-making 37-point victory, wrapping up second place in the 2015 regular season standings.

**This game was boutcast live on Layer9.ca. Watch the archive here.

**The ToRD house league teams get a break now as they gear up for Montreal’s Beast of the East, with the quarterfinal showdown tentatively scheduled for May 9th.

Nerd Glasses

CANADIAN ROUND-UP

Calgary All Stars LogoIt was a busy weekend all across the country at all levels of play. Perhaps most significantly, Calgary (60th and in WFTDA’s Division 2) was making its 2015 WFTDA sanctioned debut at How the West Was Won and seemed to pick up right where they left off in 2014, scoring a major upset win over St. Chux Derby Chix (38th in D1) 137-103 before falling to a strong Arizona (34th) team, 270-139. They wrapped up the weekend with another upset, this time a 187-108 win against Brew City (50th). Calgary closed out 2014 by surging into a D2 playoff spot, but at this rate they may just propel themselves right into D1 before the year is out! Full results from HTWWW are available here.

Royal City’s Brute-Leggers were on the road for their WFTDA debut this weekend, and picked up two big wins, first 253-102 over Hellions of Troy (126th, D3) and then 157-109 over other WFTDA newcomers Albany Roller Derby.

Speaking of regular seasons, while Toronto’s was ending, Montreal’s was just getting under way with Les Filles du Roi winning this year’s annual round-robin tournament to kick off the season. FDR defeated Les Contrabanditas 125-99 and La Racaille 136-92 to emerge as front-runners in the league this season. The Ditas and La Racaille played a tight bout, 110-100 for the Ditas, to round out the night.

Also, Orangeville hosted a full-day men’s and women’s round robin tournament that saw the GTA Rollergirls G-sTARs go 2-0, knocking off Kingston Disloyalists 195-66 and Orangeville 243-139. The hosts, Orangeville Pulp Affliction, defeated Kingston 228-141. At the same event, Toronto Men’s Roller Derby put in a strong showing against Montreal’s Mont Royals, holding the 15th ranked MRDA team to a respectable 278-86. Full results available here.

Finally, the Border City Brawlers B-team, the Canadian Clubbers, managed to knock off the Woodstock Warriors 159-133 in Woodstock.

**Other Canadian roller derby scores? Please post them in the comments section below.

Gores Clinch Top Spot in ToRD Standings with Win Over Chicks; Woodstock Tops DVAS

This was the fourth straight victory for the Gores over the Chicks dating back to 2012. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

This was the fourth straight victory for the Gores over the Chicks dating back to 2012. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

For the eighth time in nine years, the Gore-Gore Rollergirls will be battling for the boot as participants in Toronto Roller Derby’s annual championship game, but now the team that refers to itself as the Dynasty will have to wait to find out its opponents under ToRD’s new playoff system that will see the top team get what amounts to a two-round bye to the final. It has been an impressive run of consistency that has spanned generations and delivered three championships already. And if Saturday’s clockwork-like 152-point rout of Chicks Ahoy! is any indication, the Gores are far and away the team to beat this season.

Chicks' jammer Rosemary's Rabies sneaks past Murdercat! on the outside. (Photo by Greg Russell)

Chicks’ jammer Rosemary’s Rabies sneaks past Murdercat! on the outside. (Photo by Greg Russell)

Unlike their games against the Death Track Dolls and the Smoke City Betties where they were able to start well before fading, the Chicks were overwhelmed from the opening whistle against the Gores finding themselves down 11-0 three jams in. However, the Chicks did rebound briefly after that, picking up three straight leads beginning with a big pick up from Rosemary’s Rabies who seems to be slipping back into a jamming role on this Chicks’ team that lacks a bit of depth at the position and was missing a key jammer on Saturday in Wheels of Misfortune. Monster Muffin and R2 Smack-U followed that up with lead jammer pick ups of their own, a run that actually saw the Chicks take the lead 14-13. It was a short lived comeback.

The Gores picked up the first power jam of the game and went on a run centered on some nice offense from Jill ‘Em All that eventually saw the lead retaken and the expanded to 54-14 just over thirteen minutes into the half. It was evident early on that the Gores’ packs were running on a different level than those of the Chicks: the timing, execution and togetherness was exceptional, often overtly moving the Chicks packs around the track at will. This will be something that the Chicks will have to contend with moving forward, as skater-for-skater, there were some exceptional performances by players in green but as a whole they lacked cohesion.

By the midway point of half the Gores had completely wrestled control of the game away from the Chicks and after a third-straight power jam, had built a 63-14 lead. Two more power jams followed as the Chicks’ offense fell apart somewhat, forcing a focus on defense. CN Power skater Biggley Smallz was once again the standout for the Chicks, playing some heavy defense and engaging in some fantastic one-on-one battles with her CN Power counterpart Santa Muerte, while long-time vet Furious Georgia looked surprisingly comfortable on the track despite playing her first game in over a year. Rookie Vag Lightning was also excellent defensively, and some timely big hits at the back of the pack on rapidly advancing Gores’ jammers saved her point (and others) on more than one occasion. But these brief flashes of great defense didn’t translate to much offense and by the end of the half, the Gores had pulled comfortably ahead 102-21 (holding the Chicks to only 7 points over the final 20 minutes or so of the half).

Chicks' pivot Biggley Smallz oversees the pack. (Photo by Joe Mac)

Chicks’ pivot Biggley Smallz oversees the pack. (Photo by Joe Mac)

It should be noted that defensively, this was the best performance of the season for the Chicks, 219 points being the least amount they’d given up in three games on the year, but their 67 points was the lowest total of the season, although they did managed to nearly triple their score in the second half of this one. They got some very physical jamming from Hoff early and then Emraged later in the game (Em had another strong game for the Chicks and is emerging as a key skater at the core of this team) and R2 Smack-U and especially Monster Muffin had some fine moments. Early on in her ToRD career, Monster Muffin has shown some explosive skills and speed but also a penchant for some liberal play that has led to penalty troubles this season, but she is the obvious offensive lynchpin moving forward for the Chicks.

The Gores are slowly broadening their jammer rotation as well. Beaver Mansbridge continues to put together an incredible season for the Gores, whether in the pack or jamming, a dynamic duality also being displayed by Lexi Con, who is getting more time in the pack in 2015. Sophomore jammer Lumberjack Flash continues to develop, and on Saturday rookie Mudercat! shared a spot in the rotation with Taranosaurus Rex.

Although the Gores got a little sloppy defensively late in the game, they’d already amassed a considerable 155-38 lead at the midway point of the half and seemed to lock on the cruise control late, coasting to the 219-67 win and top spot in the regular season standings. This is the first time that the Gores have topped the standings since 2011, and it ends the two-year reign at the top by the Death Track Dolls. And under the new ToRD playoff system, this win books their spot in the June 6th Battle for the Boot.

However, despite finishing at the bottom of the standings, the Chicks will get a second chance under the new tiered playoff system. They will face the third place team (either the Dolls or Betties) in the 3vs4 quarterfinal on May 9th. This will mark the first time since 2010 that all four ToRD teams will qualify for the playoffs.

Nerd Glasses

Jail Mary looked impressive in her D-VAS debut. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Jail Mary looked impressive in her D-VAS debut. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

The 2015 D-VAS also continued their development on Saturday night, facing another stiff test against a vastly more experienced team in the Woodstock Warriors. Led offensively by former Forest City jammer Slacker Smacker and current Royal City jammer Stefi Spitfire and defensively by Vegas, Wrench Bendin’ Betty, and Iron Fist (and featuring the return of former Forest City veteran Back Ally Sally), Woodstock overwhelmed the D-VAS in the first half. Although things started fairly tight (ten minutes in, the D-VAS were within reach, down 29-19), by the end of the first, Woodstock had jumped ahead considerably 130-28.

But for the D-VAS, success is marked not in victories, but in progress, and in those terms this game was a huge success. Although only two weeks removed from their season opener, the D-VAS looked like a different team from the one that lost to Orangeville to kick off 2015. Buoyed, in part, by the debut of London Middlesex Roller Derby transfer Jail Mary (who looked comfortable in both the star and the stripe), the D-VAS got the expected strong performance from Battering Maam, Francesca Fiure and GigaWatts; there were improved performances from jammer Ellen Rage and emerging double threats Noodle Kaboodle and Banshee (jammer Rubyfruit Rumble took a big hit late in the game and needed to be helped off the track by the paramedic and was favouring her ankle; something to keep an eye on as the D-VAS’ season picks up steam).

Overall, there were noticeable improvements on both offense and defense from the team, despite the 243-99 loss, and things certainly seem to be trending in the right direction for ToRD’s future stars.

D-VAS jammer Battering Maam attempts to bear the pack on the outside. (Photo by Greg Russell)

D-VAS jammer Battering Ma’am attempts to beat the pack on the outside. (Photo by Greg Russell)

***Next up for ToRD is the final regular season showdown of 2015 with second place and a bye to the semifinals on the line when the Dolls and the Betties face off on March 7. A game so important that it’s not even a double header.

Bruisers Hold Off Brute-Leggers in a Another Nail Biter at the Bunker; D-VAS Debut with tough loss to Orangeville.

Bruisers pivot Monster Muffin works with Lucid Lou to contain Mangles the Clown. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Bruisers’ pivot Monster Muffin works with Lucid Lou to contain Annie Time. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

There is less than two minutes on the clock. It has been a ferocious bout, featuring six lead changes in total and no single leads greater than 21 points throughout. Two teams, virtually evenly matched have performed wonderfully: smart, tenacious, powerful and fast, they have provided the crowd with everything that a roller derby fan could want. And now it is coming down to one final jam.

The home team Bay Street Bruisers have managed to carve out a slight 157-150 lead over the visitors, the Brute-Leggers from Guelph’s Royal City Roller Girls. They’ve put Wolverina on the line; she’s been a steady and agile presence all game and is actually in the midst of a great season for her home team, the Smoke City Betties as well. A ToRD veteran (who began her career in New Zealand before transferring to Toronto in 2010), this is her first season on a travel team roster. Next to her on the jam line is Annie Time, a strong physical jammer who’s been powering her way through Bruisers’ walls all night.

Bruisers' jammer Wolverina is involved in a pile up with the Brute-Leggers' pack. (Photo by Joe Mac)

Bruisers’ jammer Wolverina is involved in a pile up with the Brute-Leggers’ pack. (Photo by Joe Mac)

The whistle blows and the jammers are off. Annie Time tries to take the inside on the Bruisers, but the line of Hannibelle, SewWhat?, Lucid Lou and Honey Boom Boom works her out of bounds and in the confusion off the start, draws a cut. Wolverina bursts through to pick up lead and begins to carve up the pack on the power jam, extending the lead to 20 points, the largest for the Bruisers all game, and the home team seems to have the game in hand. But the Brute-Leggers kick into frantic mode and both teams start to accumulate penalties at an alarming rate; it works and ‘Rina is eventually drawn into a penalty as the game clock expires and with time winding down, the visitors have one last desperate chance to get back into it. Rushing out of the box, Annie Time picks up 5, and a flurry of penalty calls leaves only Lucid Lou on the track for the Bruisers. She turns to square herself to the advancing ‘Leggers’ jammer and gets plowed over, falling awkwardly. She stays down and the referees whistle the jam dead. There is 35 seconds left on the jam clock, but the game is over. An anti-climactic finish to a thrilling game.

It was an important first game of the seasons for both teams who will have very different paths this year. Royal City is the most recent Canadian league to get elevated to full WFTDA status and next month the Brute-Leggers begin their WFTDA odyssey with their first sanctioned games (against Hellions of Troy and Albany) on their way to their initial ranking, and, hopefully, a quick run up the standings into Division 2 play. And they seem to have the team to do it. An experienced bench (Professor Wrex and veteran announcer Captain Lou El Bammo) leads a solidly built roster, anchored by an excellent jammer rotation of Mangles the Clown, Stefi Spitfire and Annie Time (a revelation in this game, who just began skating in 2013), along with Tri-City transfer Praying Man Tease, who was phenomenal with both the star and the stripe in the bout, and seems to be the key to this team’s success in 2015. But they also have a smart pack, led by the intelligent offensive play of Olivia Nuke ‘Em Bomb, and the hard-hitting Built Ford Rough, but filled out by Rugburn (who has made a fantastic transition into the pack) and Tragic Pyro-ny as well.

Brute-Leggers' pivot Built Ford Rough works with Olivia Nuke'em Bomb to contain Devochka. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Brute-Leggers’ pivot Built Ford Rough works with Olivia Nuke’em Bomb to contain Devochka. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

This game proved a good start for the Brute-Leggers who managed to work out some kinks over the course of the game, and improved as time wore on. Right out of the gates, they seemed to be a step or two behind their Toronto counterparts who were also debuting a new, largely rebuilt roster of their own, that did feature some Bay Street stalwarts such as Tushy Galore and Robber Blind, but also a new generation of on-track leaders, as well as a new bench coach in former D-VAS bench boss Toque ‘n’ Ale. Lucid Lou made a successful return to ToRD on Saturday (she seemed ok after the game and was walking on her own), while Hannibelle and SewWhat? were keys in the pack and having experienced jammers Lexi Con and Monster Muffin donning the stripes is a massive advantage for the team who ran their offense through the aforementioned Wolverina, Devochka, the wily Beaver Mansbridge and co-captain Sleeper Hold, who was a clutch performer all night and finished the game with 54 points on a 75% lead percentage (Wolverina was second in scoring with 47 points, while Beaver notched a 58% lead percentage; and after a rough first half, Devochka came through after the break with 19 points in the second).

The Bruisers, playing some great lock-down defense, managed leads of 34-25 at the ten-minute mark and 39-33 at the midway point of the first half before the Brute-Leggers managed to tie it up with seven minutes to go and eventually Annie Time blew open the game with a 19-point jam to close out the first period and give the ‘Leggers the 82-61 halftime lead.

Royal City managed to hold onto the lead until the midway point of the second (up 120-118) before the teams began to trade lead off almost by the minute, setting up that thrilling final jam.

D-VAS' FirecrackHer goes in for the hit on Orangeville's Betty Bad Touch. (Photo by Joe Mac)

D-VAS’ FirecrackHer goes in for the hit on Orangeville’s Betty Bad Touch. (Photo by Joe Mac)

It was the third week in a row that Toronto Roller Derby has delivered, featuring games with point differentials of 5, 7, and now 15 points, fans have been treated to some fine roller derby and some thrilling games to kick off the 2015 season.

And speaking of kicking off the 2015 season, this year’s D-VAS, Toronto Roller Derby’s farm team, also took to the track for the first time in 2015 on Saturday night with the freshest roster the team has seen in years. With a limited number of transfers, this year’s team will undoubtedly suffer a lot of growing pains, but they’ve got a long way to go before next fall’s entry draft and ample time to fine-tune.

On Saturday, they began the season with a tough loss to a vastly more experienced Orangeville Roller Girls Fox Force Five team featuring members of its WFTDA-apprentice-level travel team. Anchored by a trio of veterans including blockers Francesca Fiure and Gigawatts and jammer Battering Ma’am, they had no answer for the likes of Orangeville jammers K-Smax, Pink Slamminade, Lil-Maehem and Betty Bad Touch, and were dominated in the pack by Boot E, Mercy D. Nide, Eleanor Rigamortis and Goodbye Kitty among others.

Diebrarian, Leggs Benedict (pivot) and Francesca Fiure work to contain Lil-Maehem. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Diebrarian, Leggs Benedict (pivot) and Francesca Fiure work to contain Lil-Maehem. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

But the future looks bright for the D-VAS who got some impressive performances from Wreck’n’ RollHer and Diebrarian in the pack and Ellen Rage and Noodle Kaboodle on the jam line. Losses seem to sting less for the D-VAS whose chief goal is to learn and develop as skaters, and there was much to be learned in the 411-87 loss. They’ll get a chance to put this new-found knowledge to the test in two weeks time when they host Woodstock on the 21st.

***Next up for Toronto Roller Derby is a double header on February 21st featuring the D-VAS hosting Woodstock Roller Derby, and a ToRD house league regular season matchup featuring the first-place Gore-Gore Rollergirls (2-0) and the last place Chicks Ahoy! (0-2). Tickets are on sale now.

Gores Pull into Top Spot in ToRD standings; Dolls improve to 1-1

The Gore-Gore Rollergirls and Smoke City Betties dueled for top spot in the standings. (Photo by Joe Mac)

The Gore-Gore Rollergirls and Smoke City Betties dueled for top spot in the standings. (Photo by Joe Mac)

For the second time this month all four of Toronto Roller Derby’s house league teams were in action and it was a scrappy night at The Bunker on Saturday. Big hits, tight defense and some explosive jamming defined the evening’s games, and when the dust settled on the track the Gore-Gore Rollergirls (2-0) found themselves in first-place in the league, while the defending champion Death Track Dolls (1-1) managed their first win of the season over the least-place Chicks Ahoy! (0-2) to pull even with the Smoke City Betties (1-1).

Gore-Gore Rollergirls 155 vs. The Smoke City Betties 148

The Gores led for most of the game, but only narrowly, including a 13-point lead at half. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

The Gores led for most of the game, but only narrowly, including a 13-point lead at half. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Right now it looks as if the ToRD regular season is a three-way race for the top and there doesn’t appear to be much distance between the competitors. For the second game in a row, the Gore-Gore Rollergirls held off a late charge from their opponents to win by the narrowest of margins, and the Smoke City Betties (who trounced the Chicks in their season opener) will be left to wonder, “What if…?”

It’s been a long road for the Betties since their last Battle for the Boot appearance, and after the season opener it seemed as if this could be the season that the venerable team bounces back. On Saturday, things started off spectacularly for the Betties, with Smoka Cola picking up lead and the Gore jammer Santa Muerte heading to the box, the Betties found themselves spotted an 11-0 lead right out of the gates. The Betties actually dominated the opening minutes of the game, taking advantage of a scattered Gores team to lunge ahead 26-0 nearly seven minutes into the opening period.

The Gores went with a broad jammer rotation (Taranosaurus Rex, Lexi Con, Santa Muerte, Beaver Mansbridge, and Lumberjack Flash, who was playing her first game of the season), and it took them awhile to get going as the packs couldn’t find a steady rhythm with their jammers. Speaking of packs, co-captain Chronic returned after missing the season opener and was a huge presence for the Gores, and former D-VAS Knoccer Mom also made her ToRD debut.

It took a while for the Gores to get going, but they had managed to stem the flow by the ten-minute mark and picked up 10 points in the opening third of the half, but were still down 40-10.

As they did in their season opener, the Betties favoured a tighter rotation and it was clicking from the start. Led by Smoka Cola, Wolverina and Kil’Her At Large, it was WackedHer who truly got things going early on and was cutting up the Gores’ packs in the first half. Off-season transfer AnneBulance made her first appearance in the pack, and TJRD graduate Fight of the Chonchords debuted and looked very comfortable playing on a line with Tushy Galore, Honey Boom Boom and Brickhouse Bardot. But it was veterans SewWhat? And Lowblowpalooza who stood out when the Betties were controlling things early.

Taranosaurus Rex, who got knocked around last week against the Dolls, had a  bounce-back game against the Betties and sparked the Gores comeback midway through the first. Absorbing a big hit from Betties’ blocker Isla Be Damned, Rexy bounced right back, laying down a 19-point jam at the midway point to double up the Gores’ score and get them back into the game, down 59-38.

Betties' jammer Smoka Cola tore up the track and was key in her team's late-game comeback. (Photo by Greg Russell)

Betties’ jammer Smoka Cola tore up the track and was key in her team’s late-game comeback. (Photo by Greg Russell)

The Gores started to come in waves over the last half of the opening period, with skaters like Viktory Lapp taking on bigger roles on the track and seeming to gain confidence with each passing moment (Vik supplied some nice offense during the comeback). Beaver Mansbridge was wearing the star for the first (and it turns out, only) lead change in the game when the Gores pulled ahead 72-69 with only five to go in the half. The Betties came undone over the final five, with jammers repeatedly in the box, and by the break, the Gores had taken a slim 83-70 lead.

The physicality ramped up in the second with both teams landing massive hits. But there had been a clear momentum shift in the game, and despite trying to mix it up by jamming SewWhat? and Honey Boom Boom, the Betties could not muster a sustained offensive push and by the midway point of the half found themselves facing the largest deficit of the game, down 132-85.

Then, at the 10-minute mark, Betties jammer Smoka Cola took over the game. It started with 21-point jam and continued through to the end, playing every second jam and almost single-handedly bringing the Betties back. With 2:30 left, the Betties were back within 19 and had outscored the Gores 37-18 over a twelve-minute stretch, but some questionable calls stalled the comeback. A few overextended jams (a 7-4 jam and 6-4 jam for the Betties) killed precious time on the clock, and inexplicably, with their team playing the best derby they had all night, the bench did not try to stop the clock in the last five minutes, leaving a time out and an official review on the board despite having pulled within 10 points (this would also have provided Smoka with time for a breather as well, as she began to run out of steam near the end of her heroic run). In the end, time ran out on the Betties and the Gores remained perfect on the season with the 155-148 win.

Death Track Dolls 245 vs. Chicks Ahoy! 151

Chicks' jammer Monster Muffin battles with Dolls' pivot Hannibelle

Chicks’ jammer Monster Muffin battles with Dolls’ pivot Hannibelle

The Chicks were coming off of a rough loss to the Betties in their season opener, and burst out of the gates after the opening whistle in the first game of the evening, seeming like a team obsessed and catching the Dolls off guard to hold a narrow 9-8 lead, five minutes in.

Another first-year transfer was the story in this one, as Monster Muffin, on the heels of her strong debut against the Gores, anchored an improved Chicks offense, and had a lot of success against the Dolls.  It took a while, but the defending champs finally blew open the game on a Scarcasm 25-point jam, all coming off of natural grand slams as the Dolls’ pack locked things down.

There weren’t many changes to the Dolls’ roster from the season opener, nor for the Chicks who stuck with their tight jammer rotation of Monster Muffin, R2 Smack U and Wheels of Misfortune (with Rosemary’s Rabies offering relief). The line of EmRaged, Biggley Smallz, Rabies and Joss Wheelin was outstanding for the Chicks all night, often shifting momentum with single, dominant jams, and kept the Chicks within reach, down 61-32 with 10 left in the opening period. The Dolls also maintained their season-opening rotation anchored by Devochka (who was steady all night), Sleeper Hold (who had three critical, game-changing jams), and Scar, but also gave track time to the rookie jammers Common Dominator and PrEditor.

The Chicks took advantage of some Dolls’ jammer-penalty issues, and despite excellent penalty killing from Hannibelle and Robotomy, pulled within 6 points with three minutes to go. It was only a Dolls’ power jam in the final moments that gave them a relatively secure 92-62 lead at the half.

The Dolls began the second half on a power start along with a 4-2 pack advantage, and despite the efforts of EmRaged (who was coming off of her second straight excellent game), they made the Chicks pay. A few 20+ point power jams in the opening ten minutes of the half saw the Dolls open up a substantial 144-69 lead. It was one that they would not relent.

Once again the Chicks faded after a great start. The Dolls led by 30 at the break. (Photo by Greg Russell)

Once again the Chicks faded after a great start. The Dolls led by 30 at the break. (Photo by Greg Russell)

Despite some penalty troubles Dawson had another strong game in the pack for the Dolls and along with Getcha Kicks (who has fully transitioned from jammer to key blocker for the Dolls) provided some timely offense for their team. Hannibelle, working well on a line with Robotomy, continues to emerge as a powerhouse in the pack for the Dolls who seem to have weathered yet another massive turnover and look strong in the build-up to the playoffs. UpHer Cut made her return to the Dolls after a year-long hiatus, and rookie, and former D-VAS standout, April Cruel made her debut.

The Chicks looked much better than they did two weeks ago, and with a strong core led by that phenomenal line of Biggley, Em, Rabies and Joss have a lot to build around. Rookie Vag Lightning continues to improve and was a strong physical presence in the pack, while returning veteran Hoff (who very briefly retired in the off season), is playing some of her best derby in years. Add to that a talent like Monster Muffin anchoring the offense, and the Chicks are trending upward and could be a dangerous foe come playoff time.

But on this night, the Dolls proved to be a step ahead, and looked much more consistent in skating away with the 245-151 victory to even up their record at 1-1.

** Layer9.ca was there track side to record the proceedings. Watch the archives here.

**ToRD is right back at it next week! It’ll be a travel team double header at The Bunker with the Bay Street Bruisers hosting their rivals the Bruteleggers (out of Royal City) and the D-VAS hosting Orangeville. Tickets are available now.

Betties Dominate and Gores knock off the Champs in ToRD 2015 Season Opener

The Dolls and Gores met in a rematch of the 2014 Battle for the Boot to kick off ToRD's 9th season. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

The Dolls and Gores met in a rematch of the 2014 Battle for the Boot to kick off ToRD’s 9th season. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Toronto Roller Derby kicked off its ninth season on Saturday night at the Bunker in Downsview Park, the fourth and final season that this venue will be ToRD’s home. There was a packed house and a lot of anticipation as the double header featured a rematch of last year’s thrilling Battle for the Boot championship and also last season’s closest game, a twenty-pointer between the Chicks Ahoy! and the Smoke City Betties. And while the Gore-Gore Rollergirls and Death Track Dolls delivered, the Chicks looked overwhelmed at times against a Betties team that seems primed for a championship push this season.

Gore-Gore Rollergirls 151 vs. Death Track Dolls 146

The Dolls and Gores bout was one of the closest games in ToRD history, with just five points separating the teams. (Photo by Greg Russell)

The Dolls and Gores bout was one of the closest games in ToRD history, with just five points separating the teams. (Photo by Greg Russell)

In what was the closest regular season game since a Dolls 15-point win over the Betties in 2012 (which was, coincidentally, also the last season that the Gores scored a victory over them), the Gore-Gore Rollergirls managed some measure of revenge in a rematch of last year’s ToRD championship, a 45-point win for the Dolls, with an incredible 5-point victory to kick off the 2015 season in a game that featured either a tied score or a lead change eight times.

Since narrowly missing out on the playoffs in 2012, the Dolls have been tearing up ToRD. Riding an eight-game winning streak since that time, for the second year in a row the Dolls’ roster was gutted after winning the Boot. As many did last year, it could have been easy to write off the Dolls in ’15, but they showed on Saturday that they have once again successfully rebuilt and will be in contention.

However, it was the steely nerves of the Gores who repelled counter-attack after counter-attack and held strong at the end to secure a game that they led for most of the way. Anchored by a solid core of veterans that included triple-threat Santa Muerte and returning pivot Jill ‘Em All (AKA Lady Gagya to fans of CN Power), the Gores’ offense was paced by veterans Lexi Con (the league’s 2013 leading scorer), Taranosaurus Rex, Beaver Mansbridge, and Murdercat, a former D-VAS and Durham Region skater who actually was called up from the farm team for the Gores last season.

The Dolls, one the other hand, were working with a largely rebuilt jammer rotation. For the second season in a row, the team lost its leading scorer (Bellefast this time) to CN Power, meaning that leadership fell to second year Dolls Devochka and Sleeper Hold. But the team also debuted a couple new jammers (PrEditor and Common Dominator) who, for the most part, held their own against a deep Gores defense, and returning CN Power skater Scarcasm also donned the star in this game.

The Dolls actually picked up two of the three opening lead jam statuses to hold narrow 7-5 lead five minutes in. Led by some fine pack work from Jill ‘Em All, the Gores took their first lead only a minute later. At the midway point of the opening half a T-Rex skated power jam saw the Gores build the biggest lead of the game, 37-14.

But the Dolls responded with a power jam of their own, a 17-point pick up for the rookie PrEditor led to a Dolls comeback that saw them narrowly retake the lead, 40-37, with ten to go. The Gores roared back once again and threatened to pull away before a nice defensive jam from Dolls’ jammer Scarcasm saw her feed lead jammer Beaver back into the pack to force a call off. Nonetheless, as they would all night, the Gores looked to their veteran captain Santa Muerte when they were in a rut and she picked up five points to snap the deadlock and give the Gores the narrow lead at half, 51-47.

The second half was essentially a mirror image of the first, with neither team able to gain much ground. Tied at 55 five minutes in. The Gores did threaten to pull away, led by increasingly strong play from transfer Stabbey Road, when they received back-to-back power jams (19 points on the first) but a strong defensive stand on the power kill from Robotomy, Scar and Dawson limited the damage and opened up the opportunity for yet another Dolls comeback.

Holding on to a 19-point lead with only minutes left in the game, it seemed as if the Gores finally had it all wrapped up, but a dominant defensive performance from Dawson and Sleeper Hold on Lexi Con (and some timely offense from Scarcasm) saw PrEditor once again notch a massive 14-point pick up to pull within 5. However, the effort saw all three previously mentioned Dolls’ blockers head to the box for the final jam and despite a strong one-woman effort from Robotomy, the veteran Gores pack of Beaver Mansbridge, Purple Pain and Moose Knuckles locked it down allowing Santa Muerte to slip through, pick up lead and call it off for the 151-146 win.

Chicks Ahoy! 117 vs. Smoke City Betties 238

Betties' transfer Smoke Cola had a strong game for the Betties. (Photo by Joe Mac)

Recent transfer Smoke Cola had a strong game for the Betties. (Photo by Joe Mac)

The second game of the evening lacked the excitement of the first, but provided a solid look at two largely rebuilt rosters, including a Betties team that is arguably the best they have had in years, and perhaps even since their run to the 2009 Battle for the Boot. While the Chicks seem to have all the pieces in place, it looks as if it will take some time for them to gel.

It’s debatable whether or not the Betties won last year’s entry draft, but it certainly seemed so on Saturday as their rostered “rookies” (all transfers) looked immediately comfortable on the track with their new team. That comfort led the Betties to an explosive 15-3 lead just four minutes into the game; however, the Chicks roared back immediately and the next ten minutes were a power struggle as each team attempted to take control with the Chicks briefly taking the lead 35-33 at the twelve-minute mark. It took the Betties another five minutes to tie it up, but then a power jam with twelve minutes to go in the half, blew the game wide open and gave the Betties a lead they would never lose.
The Betties, who finished last in 2014 and missed the playoffs, return with their jammer rotation largely in tact (WackedHer, Wolverina, and Kil’Her At Large), but the single addition to the offense proved a game-changer in the opener. Smoke Cola, a transfer from Alliston’s Misfit Militia (and a rookie on CN Power this year as well), was phenomenal from the opening whistle for the Betties, and she seems to be taking the place of veteran titmouse in the rotation, who wore the pivot stripe in this one and looked good in the role.

Similarly, the Chicks also retained much of their jammer rotation (R2 Smack U, Biggley Smallz, and Wheels of Misfortune—though Wheels and R2 have been given much more responsibility this season) and have added one Alliston transfer to the mix in Monster Muffin. Things started to unravel for the Chicks in the final ten minutes of the half as four power jams allowed the Betties to lock things down (the one power jam that the Chicks managed during that stretch was essentially negated by a strong penalty kill from veterans Honey Boom Boom, Tushy Galore, Mazel Tough, and LowBlow Palooza). By half, the Betties were in clear control, holding a substantial 133-64 lead at the break.

While the Betties veterans and returning skaters were key (Sew What?, now exclusively in the pack, was excellent, while Jammer’head Shark has emerged as a real on-track leader for the team), along with Smoke Cola, some of the other new skaters stepped up as well. Local transfer Brickhouse Bardot was a big physical presence in the pack, while New Zealand transfer Isla B. Damned look positionally steady from the opening whistle.

On the other side of the track, the Chicks looked much looser in the pack than their counterparts, but are nonetheless loaded with talent. Rosemary’s Rabies continues to be a critical pivot while Heavy Knitter, who jammed quite a bit in 2014, seems much better suited and comfortable in the pack with the pivot stripe, and Emraged continues to become a potentially dominant pack force in the league, add to that the steady presence of un-retired veteran Hoff and scrappy play from Joss Wheelin’, and the Chicks do seem to have the skill and should improve as the season progresses.

While the Chicks did manage to hold the Betties to slightly less points in the second half (primarily through more disciplined play leading to less power jams), they couldn’t muster much more offense and the Betties were able to hold on for the dominant 238-117 win.

Nerd Glasses

*** You can watch layer9’s track side footage of the games here.

***All four teams will be back in action in two weeks (on the 31st), with the Dolls taking on the Chicks and the Gores meeting the Betties in an early battle for top spot in the standings. Tickets are already available. Find more information here.

***CTV was on hand to cover the season opener and their coverage was built around ToRD’s search for a new home. You can watch the coverage here.

Flat Track Comes of Age: A Reflection on the State of the Game at the End of 2014

 

The Agony and the Ecstasy: The moments following the final whistle of the 2014 WFTDA Championship game, with Gotham defeating Rose City 147-144. (Photo by Joe Mac)

The Agony and the Ecstasy: The moments following the final whistle of the 2014 WFTDA Championship game, with Gotham defeating Rose City 147-144. (Photo by Joe Mac)

It had been somewhat of a tumultuous few years for the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. Beginning in 2010 when the flat track game began to evolve in ways distinct from any other version of the game that preceded it, there were pushbacks toward the Association from virtually every corner; whether from the roller derby’s remaining patriarch Jerry Seltzer, or its bloggers like Windy Man, or even parts of the WFTDA’s membership itself, from 2010-2013 the sport of flat track roller derby came under attack in ways that would have seemed ludicrous during the all-inclusive love-in that defined the community from 2003-2009.

Personally, I truly fell in love with the game in the fall of 2009 when all the elements that people seemed to hate about the sport first surfaced. For me, the game of flat track roller derby existed only in name until that point, as the sport was basically just a mutated version of the banked track game played on a flat surface. It seems, in retrospect, that people were content with this pseudo-version of Seltzer-style roller derby, but logically, thinking that the strategies that defined the banked track would survive forever on the flat one is equivalent to thinking that ice hockey strategies could be transported to field hockey: different surfaces, different games.

In 2014, flat track roller derby truly came of age. The sometimes awkward adolescence that hobbled the game through its strategic and subsequent rules evolution of the past few years finally seemed to balance out; the game hasn’t changed much over the past two seasons (though of course its gotten better through refinement), nor have the rules (again aside from clarification and “tightening”) and in 2014 we finally got to see what flat track roller derby is going to look like.

If you want to see flat track roller derby at its finest, you can do no better than the first half of the Rose City vs. Atlanta game at the WFTDA Division 1 Playoffs (watch on WFTDA.TV)

If you want to see flat track roller derby at its finest, you can do no better than the first half of the Rose City vs. Atlanta game at the WFTDA Division 1 Playoffs (watch on WFTDA.TV).

Some people still hate what the game has become, and that’s fine, but after an incredible 2014 playoff season and a heart warming World Cup (played under the WFTDA rule set), the attacks on the WFTDA seem shallow now; they seem to be coming from people who simply don’t like the sport, yet still, inexplicably, want to be a part of it (perhaps due to reasons of self-centred sentimentality and nostalgia: “But that’s not what the game looked like when I discovered it!”).

Another criticism still levelled at the WFTDA is about the lack of fans, and even more ludicrously, the notion that flat track roller derby from 2003-2009 had this massive fan base that the game has now alienated by becoming too strategic, too slow (the implication being that we should make it more “showy”; that we should alter the rules in ways to attract fans, as opposed to altering rules to match the natural evolution of the game on a flat surface). The idea that flat track roller derby ever had a sustained, loyal fan base outside of its own membership is, to be blunt, simply not true. It’s a fallacy built around the illusion that because places like Seattle attracted a few thousand fans for a few if its house league seasons and Toronto sold out its venue for a year following the release of Whip It, we had some massive, loyal fan base that has since been eroded.

There is absolutely no consistent sample size to base this argument on (though that hasn’t stopped people), and the logical conclusion to the idea of forcing the game to change in a way to better entertain fans is RollerGames (which I am confident in saying that no one wants). The flat track game has only just “settled” in the past season or so; I believe we are probably still 5-10 years away from seeing the beginning of a devoted fan base, if at all. And really, that should never be the goal of a sport that is at an age when it’s still figuring itself out.

And while on the surface, growth does seem to be somewhat slowed at the highest level (this year’s WFTDA playoffs probably drew about the same amount of fans as last year’s, etc.), at the base, the game is flourishing. Men’s roller derby and junior roller derby both grew leaps in bounds in 2014, and the game spread to corners of the globe that would have seemed impossible a few years ago for various reasons (Hello CaiRollers!). The junior exhibition game at the World Cup, though initially seeming like an afterthought, was a sight to behold. The fact of the matter is that at the highest levels of the game, we are now tinkering. We are refining the game and making it better, more athletic. Smarter. And all the while, the base upon which this is supported is growing and strengthening.

One of my picks for game of the year was the Montreal vs. Toronto showdown at this year's Quad City Chaos. Watch the complete game here. (Produced by Layer9.ca)

One of my picks for game of the year was the Montreal vs. Toronto showdown at this year’s Quad City Chaos. Watch the complete game here. (Produced by Layer9.ca)

And Canada remains right in the centre of it all (or perhaps more accurately just north of centre). For a long time it seemed as if Canada was constantly playing catch-up, with the game in general but with its own internally dominant league as well, Montreal Roller Derby. And this year, the rest of the country caught up in a big way. Both Toronto and Terminal City pushed the Skids to new heights of competitiveness, and in 2015 the game at the national level is expected to be played on an ever-increasing playing field. The Rideau Valley Vixens defeated Berlin’s Bear City in an incredible final game of one of the most incredible tournaments that flat track roller derby has ever seen (hosted, no less, by Canada’s Tri-City Roller Derby), and those thrilling D2s were followed by an equally thrilling D1 playoffs that was capped off by one of the greatest games ever (and certainly, given the stakes, since the 2010 WFTDA Championship game), when Gotham held off Rose City (147-144) to retain the Hydra.

Sure, Canada didn’t surprise as it did in 2013 when Toronto and Terminal City both went on spirited and unexpected runs in their respective Division payoffs, and Montreal once again lived up to its moniker as being the Most Heartbreaking Team in playoff history with another last-gasp loss, this time to long-time rivals Charm City, but nonetheless it was a banner year for the sport in the country and saw the rise of a new, true, power from the west in the Calgary Roller Derby Association, whose record-setting march up the WFTDA standings has made them a team to watch in the coming season. Overall, with the very recent additions of St. Albert, Winnipeg and Guelph’s Royal City, there are now fifteen WFTDA leagues in Canada spread across all three divisions, and three hundred member leagues overall.

Globally, the game is growing competitively, not only at the National level, as we saw with teams like Argentina and New Zealand, but at the league level as well. Berlin (D2) along with London and Melbourne’s Victorian Roller Derby (D1) all announced themselves as players on the WFTDA circuit. And there are more in the wings. When you think about the struggles and in-fighting that have gone on in trying to put professional sports leagues like the NHL and the NFL into global markets, the fact that a still-amateur sport like flat track roller derby has been able to sustain a “league” with international membership is nothing short of astonishing.

In 2014, the sport of flat track roller derby came of age. The game is better than it has ever been, played by stronger and fitter athletes in more places on the planet than anyone could ever have conceived of. It’s a fine time to be a fan of the sport, and I’ve got a feeling that it’s only going to get better.

****Take a look at the gallery below to see some of my favourite photographs that appeared on this site this year. A very, very BIG thanks to photographers Neil Gunner, Greg Russell, and Joe Mac for allowing me to illustrate my ramblings with their fine work.

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