Sports

Beast of the East 2015 Participants Named

Beast of the East 2015 is the eighth annual house league roller derby tournament hosted by Montreal Roller Derby. It is a sixteen team, two-day, double elimination tournament featuring teams exclusively from eastern Canada. Listed are this year’s participants by league.

Montreal Roller Derby logoMontreal Roller Derby

La Racaille

Les Contrabanditas

Les Filles du Roi

All three Montreal teams return once again. Last year, only La Racaille (champs in 2009, runners up in 2008 and 2010), made it as far as the semifinal. After Les Filles du Roi’s victory in 2010, Les Contrabanditas (runners up in 2009) remain the only Montreal team to have yet won the tournament.

ToRD logoToronto Roller Derby

Death Track Dolls

Gore-Gore Rollergirls

Chicks Ahoy!

For the second Beast in a row, three teams will represent Toronto Roller Derby in the tournament (the Chicks Ahoy! return after a year-long absence). The defending champion Gore-Gore Rollergirls (also runners up in 2011) return to defend their crown, while 2013 third-place finishers, the Dolls (also third place in 2011) join the Gores, the Montreal teams, and Thames Fatales as the lone participants in every Beast.

Rideau Valley ROller Gilrs logoRideau Valley Roller Girls

Slaughter Daughters

Prime Sinisters

Although the Slaughter Daughters last won in 2013 (along with a title in 2011), Last year, after RVRG did a league-wide roster shuffle, the Prime Sinisters eliminated Slaughter Daughters in first round, while the Riot Squad (who will not be appearing this season) made the final four for the first time; however, it was the Prime Sinisters (back for their second appearance) that ended up winning the first RVRG house league championship at the end of last season.

Forest City logoForest City Derby Girls

Thames Fatales

The Thames Fatales continue their run of appearing in every Beast of the East tournament. In 2013, Thames made the quarter finals for the first time since 2010. Last season they fell in the first round while their leaguemates (Luscious Lunch Ladies) made the quarterfinals.

Roller Derby Quebec logoRoller Derby Quebec

Le Rouge et Gore

Les Casse Gueules

Although they competed as Les Duchesses in 2011 and 2012, in 2013, RDQ divided its travel team into two home teams, both of whom made their Beast debuts. Le Rouge et Gore turned some heads with an impressive run to the quarterfinals that year, while last year it was Les Casse Gueules’ turn to make a run, one that took them all the way to the final. They may have had the element of surprise on their sides in the last two tournaments, but there will be no underestimating either team this year.

Durham Region Roller Derby LogoDurham Region Roller Derby

Atom Smashers

After first making an appearance in 2012, the Motor City Madames made their second appearance last season with leaguemates the Atom Smashers, but their leagumates stole the show, putting up a strong fight in the opening round taking a win before losing in the double elimination bout. The Smashers will have  a chance to build on that this year.

New name, new logo. Tri City Roller Derby 2014 Logo

Tri-City Roller Derby

Total Knock-Outs

Venus Fly Tramps

After having no participants last year, Tri-City sends the TKOs and the Venus Fly Tramps this season. This will be the fourth Beast appearance for the Tramps (but the first since 2011), while the TKOs make their third appearance and first since a run to the quarterfinals in 2013.

Kingston Derby Girls LogoKingston Derby Girls

Skateful Dead

Kingston makes its long-awaited debut at the Beast with the appearance of Skateful Dead. The Dead defeated their leaguemates the Rogue Warriors in last year’s KDG Championship.

Capital City Derby Dolls LogoCapital City Derby Dolls

Beauty School Dropouts

Capital City joins Kingston in making its Beast debut. The Dropouts are one of three house league teams in CCDD and with their appearance, will help CCDD become the third league  to represent Ottawa at the Beast of the East.

Nerd Glasses

The Beast of the East will take place over two days beginning on April 25th. For more information stay tuned to Montreal Roller Derby’s website.

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.

Neil Gunner’s Into Battle to Launch at ToRD’s 2015 Season Opener

“I definitely had it in my mind to represent the full derby experience as much as possible.”—Neil Gunner on preparing to publish Into Battle, his book of roller derby photography that will be available this weekend at ToRD’s 2015 Season Opener.

"If I'm having to use my teammates to try to claw my way through, it's probably because I'm under heavy attack. That's how it feels when you're playing against Windy City." - Minnesota's Juke Boxx (now with London) on facing  Windy City in the final of the 2012 WFTDA North Central Regional Championship.

“If I’m having to use my teammates to try to claw my way through, it’s probably because I’m under heavy attack. That’s how it feels when you’re playing against Windy City.” – Minnesota’s Juke Boxx (now with London) on facing Windy City in the final of the 2012 WFTDA North Central Regional Championship.

Into Battle: The Roller Derby Experience in Photos and Interviews is a coffee-table sized sports photography book, but it’s not your typical sports book, nor is it your typical book of photographs. And those are both good things.

The book is not simply a collection of the author’s best or favourite photographs; it is instead curated thematically, divided into 27 sections that mimic the narrative of a roller derby event, from pre-game talks to stretching and gearing up, right through to the elation of post-game celebrations.

Beautifully and meticulously put together from the inside covers right through to the subtle background images of the text (ghostly shots of the floor the Bunker, home of Toronto Roller Derby), perhaps the most astonishing thing about the book is that it was self-published by the photographer himself, Neil Gunner. And everything from the vision to the actualization was all his doing.

“My main motivation was that I wanted full creative control, from art direction and layout to treatment of photos and skater stories to physical specs for the book,” Gunner explained in a recent interview. “I didn’t trust that some mass-market publisher would do justice to roller derby the way someone within our community would.”

So despite interest from an American publisher, Neil set out on his own with little more than his large collection of personal photos representing a number of events (from house league matchups to the WFTDA playoffs) and 19 distinct leagues from throughout Canada and the United States, and only a slowly evolving vision for the book.

“When I started the process, I had no idea if it was even going to work,” he admits now, “It all depended on the skaters – if they were willing to share, we were in business. Thankfully, the vast majority were very open and engaging; once I’d done a couple of interviews, I knew I was on to something.”

Interestingly, the book emerged out of a somewhat constructed collaboration that went beyond the natural game-time collaboration between photographer and subject. Instead of simply organizing the photographs into thematic sections, Gunner also made the fascinating choice of interviewing the subjects of the photos and using those words to accompany the photos as opposed to his own descriptions; this was one of the ideas that preceded the publishing of the text and ended up inadvertently shaping the content as well.

“When I started, I didn’t immediately think ‘chapters’; I wasn’t even sure what the theme would be… As I started to complete interviews and create transcripts, I could see themes and patterns emerging; it was just a matter of putting those patterns together. Over several weeks, the patterns became categories, which became sections and then chapters, right down to individual page spreads…The photo and story I chose for the introduction—where Arch Rival’s High Pains Drifter (Bench Coach) and Downtown Dallis are having their heart to heart—when I put those stories together, I thought, ‘This is it. This represents the whole derby attitude.’ It set the tone for the entire book.”

"I was just thinking  to myself, desperately like, 'Grab Acid's hand and take that whip.'" - Ohio's Smacktivist on a 2012 playoff showdown with Naptown.

“I was just thinking to myself, desperately like, ‘Grab Acid’s hand and take that whip.'” – Ohio’s Smacktivist on a 2012 playoff showdown with Naptown.

Neil Gunner (whose derby photography can be found on his Flickr site) is unique in one way from most derby photographers: He is very selective about what photos he releases to the public after a bout or tournament, sometimes to the point where a double header, for example, will produce as little as twenty pictures; so even in his regular derby photography, he is building a narrative and it’s something that he is conscious about: “One thing you’ll notice when you look at my derby photography in general: I like to curate and I like to tell a story, if I can. Sort of a dramatic documentary. The one thing I knew from the start was that this (book) couldn’t be just a bunch of photos with no context – I mean, who’d care, right?”

This structural decision makes for a surprisingly engaging read. As with any book of photos, it’s entirely possible to open randomly and be impressed by the pics and the layout, but rare in photography books is the ability to read it from start to finish as you would a novel or even a game recap.

But collecting and selecting the images and doing the interviews—while undeniably a massive undertaking—is just the first step in the production of a book; beyond that, the actual production can take as much time or more and can offer immense challenges, particularly from someone self-publishing a book for the first time. As Gunner admits, it required a lot of patience and the willingness to learn on the fly: “Every step of the process presented a unique set of challenges. The ones I didn’t see coming all had to do with production. For instance, I taught myself InDesign in order to build the book layouts. I learned all about retouching to fix a couple things within some photos.”

But the biggest challenge, he explains, was the actual preparation of the images for printing: “Photos intended for paper and a multi-million dollar printing press require a different output format than photos intended for a computer screen (CMYK versus RGB for those interested). The conversion process isn’t hard, but the trick is maintaining image quality: images reproduced on paper often lose something. I did a lot of testing, and this is one reason why finding the right printer is so important.” He ended up choosing a printer from Manitoba, and along with printing, they were able to offer advice as well.

As you learn through talking with people who have self-published, finding and receiving help along the way is key in the production. The term “self-publishing” itself is a bit of a misnomer, especially when producing a book as technically and structurally challenging as this one. All the steps a “traditional” publisher would take still need to be taken, and Gunner made sure to seek out help where needed, which included hiring a print production management team, Heidy Lawrance Associates, who ended up putting him in touch with the Manitoba-based printer and gave advice about aspects such as layout.

And that help extends into post production where he hired a copy/substantive editor, Stephanie Halldorson from h:editing, as well as a proofreader, Tan Light. “Believe me,” Gunner is quick to point out, “the book was very much improved by their attention.”

But when it all comes down to it, the stars of the book are the photos themselves and the subjects they contain. And the years of shooting roller derby have given Neil a refined eye for the sport and the action it contains.

There is a wide range of levels of derby captured in the book. The opening two-page spread of the “Teamwork” section (pp.76-77), for example, provides one image of a farm-team level game in Toronto opposite an image of a WFTDA elimination playoff game between Ohio and Naptown; despite the disparity in the levels of the game, the subject matter (two blockers attempting to whip their jammers past quickly advancing defenses) and the captured intensity are equal and presented as such.

"It was a messy, messy couple of seconds." - Windy City's Killanois on this encounter with a Montreal pack.

“It was a messy, messy couple of seconds.” – Windy City’s Killanois on this encounter with a Montreal pack.

The set-up also allows for narratives to be told over two pages. One example appears in the “Contact” section where a sequence (pp. 46-47) showing the knocking down of a jammer (Windy City’s Killinois) by a couple of Montreal blockers is described over both pages, with the narrative of the blocker (Montreal’s Mel-E. Juana is the interviewed blocker) and the jammer accompanying the images. Similarly, a three-photo spread (pp. 160-161) in the “Tenacity” section shows an ongoing battle between a blocker (Forest City’s Mirambo) and jammer (Toronto Roller Derby’s Bala Reina). It’s a compelling style, and one of the reasons that makes this book of photography so “readable.”

In the end, what Gunner has managed to produce is as compelling a book about roller derby as the contemporary revival has seen. Add to that the fact that as a DIY project, it was a labour of love in line with the cultural aesthetic of contemporary roller derby, and you have a book that successfully captures a community.

While talking with Neil about the book, you get a sense that despite the effort, he enjoyed making it as much as we’ve enjoyed reading it. “You really have to enjoy the process. It’s a huge amount of sustained effort; several phases were a full-time job. So you’ve got to have fun along the way or you’ll never get through it. Which is why I’m eternally grateful to every skater who agreed to do an interview over a beer.”

When asked if self-publishing was the right decision, he doesn’t hesitate, “it was absolutely the right decision.”

ToRD 2015 Season Opener BannerInto Battle will be available at Toronto Roller Derby’s 2015 season opener, a double header featuring a rematch of the 2014 Battle for the Boot (Death Track Dolls vs. Gore-Gore Rollergirls) and Chicks Ahoy! vs. Smoke City Betties. Neil Gunner and others who appear in the book will also be available to sign autographs.

Tickets are now available.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.