Battle for the Boot 9

Betties Knock off Gores to Capture First Boot

One of the loudest crowds in Battle for the Boot history was treated to a stunning championship game. (Photo by Greg Russell)

One of the loudest crowds in Battle for the Boot history was treated to a stunning championship game, ToRD’s 9th Battle for the Boot. (Photo by Greg Russell)

For the vast majority of their third attempt at winning Toronto Roller Derby’s championship it seemed as if the Smoke City Betties were destined to suffer the same fate that had befallen them on their first two attempts. For 51 minutes, the game and the coveted Boot both seemed out of reach.

Until suddenly, it wasn’t.

In the end, Toronto’s oldest flat track roller derby team managed to find some deep reserve of desire that fueled a thrilling late-game comeback, stunning eight-time finalists (and three-time champions) the Gore-Gore Rollergirls, 171-140, in what many immediately declared to be the most satisfying Battle for the Boot in league history.

It is true that ToRD’s championship game has often been a letdown. Adjusting for style of game play, it is easy to argue that between 2009 (when the Betties lost to the Gores 129-88) and 2013 (when the Betties were on the losing end of record-setting 258-73 defeat to the Death Track Dolls), every championship game was a blowout. Even last year’s 184-139 showdown between the Dolls and Gores, while not a blowout by any means, was never really in question as the Dolls led from start to finish. But in a year of league parity (at least between the top three teams), it should really have come as no surprise that this championship game delivered.

The Gores got off to an exceptional start, led by their eventual leading scorer Beaver Mansbridge. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

The Gores got off to an exceptional start, led by their eventual leading scorer Beaver Mansbridge. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

The game actually got off to an inauspicious start for the Betties, who, despite playing two playoff games over the last month, seemed the less prepared of the two teams. Behind some incredible defensive blocking, all four of the Gores’ primary jammers (Lumberjack Flash, Lexi Con, Beaver Mansbridge and Taranosaurus Rex) nabbed lead jammer status in their initial jams, eventually taking five of the opening six (which included a power jam) to take a commanding 28-3 lead.

Unfazed, the Betties roared back and flipped the board on the Gores, taking seven of the next ten leads to get back in it, yet still found themselves down 51-34 with ten minutes to play in the opening period.

The Gores got a fantastic opening half from jammer Lexi Con, who played, arguably, her best half of the season, and at the break led her team—and the game—in scoring (38 points) and lead percentage (87% over seven jams). However, on the Betties’ side of the score sheet, an interesting story was developing: after a slow start, ToRD’s second leading scoring in the regular season, Smoka Cola, seemed to be just getting warmed up: the first-year transfer nabbed lead in three of her final four jams scoring 28 of her 29 points over that stretch, while helping the Betties to get close at the break, down 89-67 at the half.

Strong Gores' packs were led by veteran blocker Jill 'Em All. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Strong Gores’ packs were led by veteran blocker Jill ‘Em All. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

The Gores had managed to hold their half-time lead by grabbing the final three lead jammer statuses and that momentum followed them into the second period. Although lead jammer status was about equal over the opening ten minutes, the Gores maintained clear control, getting phenomenal blocking from veteran Santa Muerte, while Jill ‘Em All (who returned to the Gores after a two-year hiatus to focus on the CN Power) led an, at times, devastating line along with Chronc, Gamma Rei and Emma Dilemma. One-third of the way through the second period and it seemed as if the Gores were in complete control: they used three power jams to build a substantial 30-point lead, 126-96.

But then, the game changed.

The Betties got some outstanding blocking across the board, including AnneBulance and Tushy Galore). (Photo by Greg Russell)

The Betties got some outstanding blocking across the board, including AnneBulance and Tushy Galore). (Photo by Greg Russell)

Led by some stand-out performances from across the board—including veterans, rookies, and transfers—the Betties slowly began to chip away. Heavy defense from Tushy Galore and Honey Boom Boom (who was outstanding in the game, playing perhaps the best derby of her career), was complemented by the calm on-track presence of rookie Fight of the Conchords, on-point line leadership from SewWhat?, and an increasingly larger role for first-year transfer AnneBulance. Six-straight lead jammers for the Betties anchored a series of ten consecutive jams where the Gores were held off the board, and after an incredible 14-point pick up from long-time Bettie titmouse (she finished with 41 points), the Betties found themselves within three—as close as they’d been since the opening whistle.

A Gores’ timeout did nothing to stop the Betties’ momentum, and when it was all said and done, a 64-0, ten jam run of complete dominance saw the Betties take their first lead of the game with nine minutes left to go; it was a run that sealed the Gores’ fate.

Smoka Cola (seen here pushing through a Jill 'Em All and Gamma Rei two-wall) was unstoppable in the second half. (Photo by Greg Russell)

Smoka Cola (seen here pushing through a Jill ‘Em All and Gamma Rei two-wall) was unstoppable in the second half. (Photo by Greg Russell)

In terms of offense, the story of the second half was Smoka Cola. After a strong first period, Smoka was simply unstoppable in the second: 100% lead percentage (seven for seven) and 50 points. At one point in the game-changing ten jam run, she even went back to back (grabbing lead on both), but it was a late power jam (the Betties’ second and final of the half) that sealed the deal.

After getting back-to-back leads, the Gores handed the star to Santa Muerte, who’d been somewhat of a secret weapon this season (in limited regular season action with the star she’d managed 3.7 points per jam and a remarkable 75% lead percentage). Unfortunately this time, matched up against Smoka Cola, it backfired. Drawing a cut, the Betties and Smoka Cola punished the Gores for 18 points (even with excellent penalty killing from Viktoty Lapp, Moose Knuckles and Miss Kitty La Peur).

It was the first Boot win in three attempts (2009, 2013) for the Betties. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

It was the first Boot win in three attempts (2009, 2013) for the Betties. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Despite a frantic push at the end (they would take lead in four of the final five jams, led by some fantastic jamming from Beaver Mansbridge, who eventually led the Gores in scoring—50—and lead percentage—50%), the Betties retained control of the scoreboard and held off the Gores for the 29-point win.

This win was a long-time coming for the Betties, who were the last team to have their name engraved on the Boot, and in particular for those longest-serving skaters (Tushy Galore, titmouse, and Genuine Risk were three of twelve rookies on the team in a challenging 2010 season), and with a strong core in the place, this could just be the start of something special.

**The Battle for the Boot was broadcast on Rogers TV; check local listings for rebroadcast, with the evening of June 13 the likely first rebroadcast. And, of course, layer9.ca was trackside to capture all of the action. You can watch his footage here.

**Next up for flat track roller derby fans in the city is the Pride-affiliated 2015 U-Haul Brawl at Ted Reeve Arena on Thursday, June 25th).

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Battle for the Boot 9: A Preview of the 2015 ToRD Championship

The Gore-Gore Rollergirls and the Smoke City Betties had a tight regular season showdown, with the Gores winning narrowly 155-148. (Photo by Joe Mac)

The Gore-Gore Rollergirls and the Smoke City Betties had a tight regular season showdown, with the Gores winning narrowly 155-148. (Photo by Joe Mac)

Formed in late winter 2006, they are one of the oldest roller derby teams in Canada. From them, the Gore-Gore Rollergirls, the GTA Rollergirls, and the Rollergettes all sprung forth. From hosting the first ever Canadian roller derby tournament in August 2006 to being one of the teams on the track for the opening whistle of the inaugural Beast of the East in 2008, this team’s imprint is stamped all over the history of Canadian flat track roller derby.

So central to the narrative of the sport are they, it’s almost hard to believe that the one thing that the Smoke City Betties have never accomplished is winning a Toronto Roller Derby championship.

On Saturday, June 6, 2015, they will have their third chance to do so when they face off against the Gore-Gore Rollergirls in ToRD’s 9th Battle for the Boot.

The Betties and Gores first met int he championship game in 2009, with the Gores winning 128-88. (Photo by Kevin Konnyu)

The Betties and Gores first met in Battle for the Boot 3 in 2009, with the Gores winning 128-88. (Photo by Kevin Konnyu)

The only other time these two teams—so indelibly linked—squared off for the Boot was way back in 2009 when the make-up of the rosters was so far different from what they are now: Back then, the rivals were loaded with first generation ToRD skaters, and after the Gores beat the Betties 128-88 in that game, there was a massive retirement of original Betties, with others (like Demolition Dawn and Dyna Hurtcha) moving on to different teams. What began was an almost brutal bottom-up rebuild of the team that took four trying years to accomplish. Then in 2013, their second shot at the Boot, they came up against a record-setting juggernaut in the Death Track Dolls.

This time, the turn around has only been two years and much of the core remains.

It’s been a different story for the Gores. One of ToRD’s great teams, they have dominated the opening decade of the league’s history. They have won three championships (tied with Chicks Ahoy!) and they have, remarkably, battled for the Boot in eight of ToRD’s nine championship bouts. However, despite three appearances in the final over that stretch of time, it has been four long years since the Gores last raised the Boot. A few skaters remain from that last championship win (Jill ‘Em All was there and Santa Muerte, Chronic, Miss Kitty La Peur, and Gamma Rei were all rookies), and I doubt any thought it would take so long to taste victory once again.

Not much separated the two teams during their regular season showdown, but Betties jammer Smoka Cola had, arguably, her best game of the season, scoring 70 points and holding a 63% lead percentage. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Betties jammer Smoka Cola had, arguably, her best game of the season against the Gores, scoring 70 points and holding a 63% lead percentage. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Based on regular season results, it would seem that the Gore-Gore Rollergirls have the slightest edge coming in. While overall, the Betties outscored the Gores in the regular season, the Gores had the stingiest defense overall, leading to a substantially better team plus/minus (+164 vs. +52). On top of that, there is that 7-point regular-season victory. Competitively, it’s tight in the pack, but considering the collective experience of Santa Muerte, Chronic, and Jill Em All, the edge may go to the Gores.

That being said, this Betties crew is a pack on the rise. With Tushy Galore planted firmly in core of this group, this season has seen the rise of a new generation of pack leaders, none more so than SewWhat?, who is quickly becoming one of the league’s most reliable blockers. LowBlowPalooza and Honey Boom Boom have stepped up their games this season as well.

The jammer rotations are also comparable. While the Gores used a relatively expansive six-jammer rotation (although all six only appeared in one game together), the Betties have stuck with the same tight four-jammer lineup all regular season—and they excelled with remarkable consistency. Smoka Cola led the way in scoring and lead percentage (183 points, 4.1 points per jam, 64% lead percentage) but all four members (Wolverina, WackedHer, and Kill’Her At Large) scored at least 110 points, registered at least 3.3 points per jam and had at least a 45% lead percentage. Pretty solid stats for a team that went 1-2 on the regular season. With Kill’Her At Large out with an injury for the playoffs, veteran jammer titmouse returned to the lineup just in time to slip into her role.

Toronto_roller_derby_Battle_for_the_Boot_2015The Gores employed a wider offense, and different jammers found success against different teams, and sometimes even just in different situations. The team’s leading scorer, for example, Taranosaurus Rex (123 points) managed to score a team-high 56 points against the Dolls in a game in which she registered only a 29% lead percentage. Overall, Lexi Con and Beaver Mansbridge were the team’s steadiest performers with the star. Lexi led the team with a 4.3 points per jam (on 50%) while Beaver led the way with a 61% lead percentage (scoring 77 points on a 3.4 points per jam). A bit of a not-so-secret weapon is Santa Muerte. Used in limited action, she was incredibly consistent when needed, managing 3.7 points per jam and a 75% lead percentage.

With two teams that seem so close on paper, it may end up coming down to game readiness. And that advantage favours the Betties. The Gores have not seen full-game action since February, while the Betties have been climbing through the ranks, playing meaningful, must-win playoff games, and virtually dominating them. If they can carry that momentum into the Battle for the Boot, it will be their battle to lose.

Nerd Glasses

**The Battle for the Boot 9 is on Saturday, June, 6th, at the Bunker in Downsview Park with opening whistle slated for 7:00 PM. The night will open with an all-star mashup, featuring two rosters built of skaters from CN Power and the Bay Street Bruisers. Opening whistle on that one is 5:00 PM. Tickets are available online or at the door.

End of an Era: Betties Knock off Defending Champs in ToRD Semifinal

Smoke City Betties jammer WackerHer attempts to power through a Death Track Dolls wall in the ToRD semifinal. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Smoke City Betties jammer WackedHer attempts to power through a Death Track Dolls wall in the ToRD semifinal at The Bunker in Dowsnview Park on Saturday night. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

At the midway point of the opening half, it was still anyone’s game.

From the opening whistle, the Smoke City Betties had managed to keep one step ahead of the defending champion Death Track Dolls, but with a scoreline that read 66-40, they hadn’t been able to distance themselves. It was still anyone’s game.

And then, suddenly, it wasn’t: A methodical fourteen-minute, 50-0 run (in which they managed to nab eight out of nine lead jammers) extended the Bettie’s lead to 76 points. The Dolls would never get closer again, and after a second-place regular season and two-straight ToRD championships, they fell short in their attempt to make it three in a row in the 200-123 loss.

Betties blockers (l to r) Brickhouse Bardot, SewWhat?, and Jammher'head Shark contain Dolls jammer Common Dominator. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Betties blockers (l to r) Brickhouse Bardot, SewWhat?, and Jammher’head Shark contain Dolls jammer Common Dominator. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

On Saturday night the Betties (who finished third in the regular season) delivered a complete game effort from a determined, focused and unified team that seems to have saved its best efforts for the most important time of the season, and after dominant quarterfinal and semifinal wins looks poised to challenge the three-time champion Gore-Gore Rollergirls in Toronto Roller Derby’s ninth Battle for the Boot.

The Betties played such a complete game that it is actually difficult to pull out standout performances. Part of the key to the success that the team has displayed in this year’s playoff run seems to be that everyone is buying into her role on the track. In a post-game interview, blocker/pivot SewWhat? attributed this partially to an off-season turnover in leadership that required everyone to step up and take responsibility—something that the team obviously did not shy away from. And from emerging leaders like SewWhat?, Honey Boom Boom and LowblowPalooza, to first-year transfers like Anne Bulance and Brickhouse Bardot, to the veteran core of Tushy Galore and titmouse, the Betties have built the depth to compete against anyone in the league.

Dolls blocker Hannibelle looks to contain Betties jammer Wolverina. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Dolls blocker Hannibelle looks to contain Betties jammer Wolverina. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

As they have all season, the Betties used a deep, consistent jammer rotation led by the unflappable duo of WhackedHer (43 points and an 83% lead percentage at half, that translated to 51, 73% for the game) and Wolverina (who was the game’s leading scorer with 69 on a 77%) to terrorize the Death Track Dolls, who didn’t have the defensive depth to match the consistent turnover of diverse jammers. Overall the Betties had a 65% lead percentage at halftime (and an even more impressive 73% over the second half of the opening period, ) accounting in large part for the considerable 118-54 lead at the break.

Playing desperation derby, the Dolls actually had a better second half (eventually outscored 82-69 in the period) that was a little deceiving as their most sustained push (a 30-7 run) came over the last five minutes when the Betties had taken their skates off the gas and the game was out of reach.

The Dolls got a monumental effort from Sleeper Hold, who donned the star for a remarkable 22 jams on the night. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

The Dolls got a monumental effort from Sleeper Hold, who donned the star for a remarkable 22 jams on the night. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Part of the change could be attributed to a momentous effort from second-year jammer Sleeper Hold who appeared in twelve jams in the second half alone (and finished the game with 66 points and a 41% lead percentage on 22 jams). The lack of depth in the position was the result of the bad luck that seemed to follow the Dolls this season. With rookie of the year candidate PrEditor unavailable for the remainder of the season (along with Scarcasm being unavailable for this game) and Devochka having just returned from injury (she got stronger as the game went on, and was excellent as pivot—receiving some key passes and managing 15 points on 60% in limited action with the star), the Dolls were left with Sleeper, rookie Common Dominator (who only had 18 jams worth of experience under her belt coming into the game), and D-VAS call up Battering Ma’am (who didn’t look out of place at all, recording 20 on 42%) to try to match the Betties offensive depth. The Betties rotation was rounded out by CN Power jammer Smoka Kola (54, 69%) and six-year veteran titmouse, whose numbers seem to pale compared to her counterparts (18, 27%). But upon closer inspection, the crafty veteran found ways to deliver and had the Nerd’s “stat of the night”: an incredible 7 stolen points, including 4 in the second half.

Similarly, the Dolls’ pack was lacking some key pieces as well, as both Dawson and Bloc Quebecois were not yet ready to return (Slam Wow and Junkie Jenny were already gone for the season). Another D-VAS call up (and former Doll) Lucid Lou was excellent given the circumstances, and Robotomy, Getcha Kicks, Hannibelle and Stringer Belle continue to provide a consistent core to the pack, but it simply wasn’t enough against a Betties team that was firing on all cylinders.

In the end, the 77-point victory allows the Betties to return to battle for the boot for the third time in history. The showdown with the Gores marks a rematch of the 2009 Battle for the Boot, and is the first appearance for the Betties since a 2013 loss to the Dolls.

Nerd Glasses

* The game was broadcast on Rogers TV. Stay tuned for rebroadcasts. Also, the thrilling preliminary game between the D-VAS and Royal City’s Our Ladies of Pain was also broadcast. Definitely find the time to tune in to this thrilling game. (You can also watch track-side footage of both games on layer9.ca)

These two teams will be meeting again in Guelph on June 13th. If this game was any indication, it might be a road trip worth making for Toronto fans!

*Battle for the Boot 9 is on June 6th at the Bunker. Tickets are on sale now.