Brandy Swifter

From Muddy Rivers to Foggy Cities, Flat Track Roller Derby is Thriving on the East Coast

             VS.         

Women’s flat track roller derby is the fastest growing sport on the planet, and with over 90 leagues, Canada is at the forefront of this growth. Beginning in major centres in southern Ontario, Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver, the sport has spread to every corner of Canada’s vast expanse. The latest front line of Canada’s roller derby revolution is on the east coast where once again major cities are leading the way. The Atlantic capitals of St. John’s, Halifax, Charlottetown and Fredericton all have established leagues, with Moncton, St. John and Dieppe rounding out the surprising growth of New Brunswick’s scene. On Saturday, August 20, Moncton’s Muddy River Rollers hosted Saint. John’s Fog City Rollers in a double header featuring the hometeams from the two cities in a brilliant display of the thriving east coast game.

Reines of Terror (in blue) kicked things off against the Scarlet Swarm. (Photography by Andy Quinlan: http://www.quinlanphotographic.com)

GAME ONE: Scarlet Swarm (FCR) 21 vs. Reines of Terror (MRR) 113

It was a steamy night in Moncton and the heat enveloped the venue, Kay Arena—an attractive new arena in the city’s east end.  While Muddy River may be a comparative newcomer to the flat track community, walking into the venue pre bout was like walking into a roller derby venue anywhere across the country. The east coast explosion has mirrored other newer movements across the country in that the growth rate (both on and off the track) has been phenomenal. “It is amazing how far ahead we are now from where we were just a year ago,” says Reines of Terror assistant captain Brandy Swifter, “and the JAMboree was one of the main reasons for that…we learned things we didn’t even know about!”  In mid July, Muddy River hosted the first ever Atlantic JAMboree, a weekend long tournament featuring the east coast teams joined by Ottawa’s newest league, the Capital City Derby Dolls). “We had some top notch coaches (Like Canuck Derby TV’s Dr. Johnny Capote, Montreal’s Georgia W. Tush, and Oil City’s Coach Lime) come out and help us out with things and teach us things that we had no idea about. All the leagues recognized this and are now putting it into play on the track.”

These kinds of share-all events have become a staple in the development of flat track roller derby, and typify the inclusive and sharing nature of the community. It is an aspect of the sport that has been embraced in the east.  “The best part (of east coast roller derby) is we’re close enough to travel easily,” points out Bambi Romano, coach of Fog City’s Scarlet Swarm. “Everyone’s (sharing) knowledge and helping each other out, and this has caught us up to everyone really quickly.” He also acknowledges the work that Tush and Dr. Johnny have done for roller derby in the province. And like all new leagues, Fog City has embraced losing: “You don’t mind losing against someone who is teaching you,” Bambi says. “If you coach against someone who is better than you are, it’s going to make you better.”

ROT assistant captain had a strong bout jamming and in the pack.

While the larger story of Atlantic Canadian roller derby has much left to be written, in these early chapters Muddy River has emerged as the competitive leader on the track (the travel team, the Lumbersmacks, recently put in a competitive showing at the CWRDA Eastern Canadian Championship). In the first bout of the double header, ROT (Reines of Terror) looked to solidify the growing reputation of the league. They kicked things off with an impressive one-two jammer punch from their captains Brandy Swifter and Burn ‘N RubHer that the Scarlet Swarm didn’t seem to have an answer for.  An early ROT power jam (after a back block major from the Swarm’s excellent Lee-Animator) saw Burn ‘N RubHer lay down 14 points and helped ROT off to an explosive 17-0 lead only four minutes in. ROT continued that dominance with five straight lead jams to kick off the bout before Swarm’s Fancy Nancy was able to grab a lead and put a few points on the board.  Nancy and Lee-Animator continued their excellent jamming throughout the half, but it was the pack work of ROT (led by, among others, Smasherella who has great track sense—from giving timely pushes to holding position when necessary) that was the clear difference.  A brilliantly paced power kill late in the half further frustrated the Swarm and helped ROT take a 41-10 lead into the break.

ROT produced some solid walls; a product of great pack communication.

Coach Bambi was aware of the strengths of ROT. “They are a smart team,” he acknowledges, “and they communicate very well on the track.” This communication was evident in the second half as ROT began to tighten up their pack play and stepped up their game.  Strong pack work from Thora Thunder and Malicious Kitty (who also donned the star) and great defensive teamwork from a line featuring Brandy Swifter, Floor Play, Tank’er Belle and Jamanda Maulograms (who also executed a relentless trap on a late power jam) allowed ROT to increase their lead in the second half. Despite the one-sided victory, Brandy Swifter was impressed with her opponents. “They (Fog City) have come such a long way; it was a good game,” she said post bout. Scarlet Swarn captain Suzie SkinHer was also happy with the way her team played, remembering how challenging Muddy River had been early on. “For every strategy we had, they had a counter strategy,” she said, “but we’ve come a long way since our first game of the season against them.” Coach Bambi also says that the “rogue” play his team was known for is slowing changing. “We’ve started to talk strategy a lot more in practice. We pulled them back and worked more on team play.” Like all new flat track teams that have come before them, they’ve learned that “going rogue all the time doesn’t necessarily help you.” A wise analysis moving forward.

GAME TWO: Daughters of Anarchy (MRR) 40 vs. Razor Girls (FCR) 73

While there was an appreciative crowd in the building and a loud travelling contingent from Fog City, it was clear that this was an audience still being educated about the sport, and the crowds in the east have not yet reached the consistent sell-outs seen in more established centres like Toronto and Montreal. Brandy Swifter acknowledges that Muddy River is still battling stereotypes and stigmas about roller roller derby in the community. “It’s tough…we have to find our niche,” she says, and spoke about a lot of the misinformed opinions they are hearing about roller derby   “Everyone we talk to still thinks that (it is like the over-the-top sports entertainment of banked track in the late 70s and 80s)…it’s all Skinny Minnie Miller comments.” But those who have discovered it, like it a lot.  “I think it’s really good for the young girls,” Coach Bambi says of the reception they’ve been getting in Saint. John and the importance of battling through these stereotypes. “I think it’s good for the women in these communities to come out and watch these girls really own a sport.”

Muddy River's Burn 'N RubHer was one of a few skaters who skated in both bouts.

It was clear from the early going that the second bout of the night was not going to be as one-sided as the first. Despite the fact that both teams were tracking depleted eleven-skater rosters (Muddy River’s DOA [Daughters of Anarchy] even had to borrow almost half their skaters from ROT), the bout kicked off at a high pace, featuring some great early jammer battles between DOA’s Sienna Killer and DeceptiCat and Razor Girls’ Katie Clubher and H-Two Oh No! But when Razor’s Tacky Tammy took the third straight lead for the Fog City and DOA jammer Ms. Hate found herself heading to the penalty box, it was clear that the Fog City team was beginning to take control of the game. But one of the double-duty skaters Burn ‘N RubHer performed brilliantly one-on-one against the Razor’s jammer Nessa Quik to help alleviate some of the pressure and keep the game from getting out of control. The bout was still wide open, 39-17 (Razor Girls) at the half.

Post bout, Burn ‘N admitted that some of the double-rostered Muddy River skaters were feeling the heat in the second game, but the biggest challenge they faced came in the form of an awesome opposing skater: Razor Girls’ triple threat Auburn Rubber (Fog City leaguemate Suzie SkinHer refered to her as the “brains on the track”). Auburn perhaps had the performance of the night and was able to successfully neutralize many of DOA’s skaters one-on-one. With the score still close—58-31 with only eight minutes left—and DOA pressing, a skillfully executed “Sanchez” (block and whip) by Auburn helped get a trapped Razor jammer through the pack and force an early jam call from Ms. Hate that killed some of DOA’s momentum. Pivot/jammer H-Two Oh No! continued her strong play as well, and aided by solid games from Alien She, Katie Clubher and reliable late-bout jamming from Lexxie Lasher, the Razor Girls were able to hold on for the impressive 33 point victory, a taste of revenge for the team who’d lost to DOA at the JAMboree. More importantly, this marked the first ever victory for a Fog City team over one of their Muddy River counterparts.

Razor Girls' Katie Clubher splits the defense on a pass late in the bout.

But in the bigger picture, wins and losses at this stage of the game mean very little. For these thriving east coast leagues it’s all about experience. “Sometimes we run into hiccups at practice and can’t quite figure out strategies,” Brandy Swifter says about some of Muddy River’s early derby growing pains, ”but then when we get on the track it just happens,” she laughs, but this highlights the invaluable (and incalculable) importance of experience in developing track sense. While this comes from playing, it also comes from watching as well. Fog City’s Suzie SkinHer says going to Montreal’s Beast of the East this season was very important for Fog City’s growth as a league. “It was a real eye opener,” she says of the level of play at the annual Montreal event, “like watching derby royalty!”

“The sky is the limit,” Bambi Romano says of Fog City’s aspirations in particular, but which could describe east coast roller derby in general. And based on the on-track success of this event on a balmy night in a Moncton arena, a truer description could not have been spoken.

**Muddy River’s next bout will see the Daughters of Anarchy hosting the Capital City Rollers’ Daisy Cutters (Fredericton) on Saturday, August 27. See the website for details.

**Fog City Rollers will be hosting an open house on Saturday, August 27. See website for details.

Blood Spill on the Hill: CWRDA’s Eastern Championship.

Blood Spill on the Hill is the first ever CWRDA Eastern Championship tournament.

Blood Spill on the Hill, hosted by the Rideau Valley Roller Girls, is the first ever Canadian Women’s Roller Derby Association (CWRDA) Eastern Championship tournament. An eight team tournament featuring some of the top teams in the east, this potentially gruelling two day grind will test not only the endurance of the skaters, but the teams’ organizational management as well, as they will have to juggle their rosters accordingly. There are some noticeable absentees in the tournament with the top three teams out (Montreal, Toronto and Tri-City), which makes this tournament an opportunity for the rest of the top competitive teams in the east to step up.  For some, like Muddy River (Moncton) and Belle City (Brantford), this will be their first chance to face top-flight competition, while for others, like Forest City and Rideau Valley, this will be a test of their ability to handle the pressure of being the favourites.

ROUND ONE

Day one will mean game over for two of the eight teams, while for the other six it’ll be another day of derby and a chance for a top five finish (with the day-one winners moving directly to the semifinals). The Hammer City Harlots will kick off the tournament facing a new team from Belle City (Brantford), the Belles of the Brawl. While on paper this one looks like a washout (the most experienced team taking on the least experienced), this is not the same Harlots teams as years past. While a few veterans remain (including former Eh! Team skater Judge Jodie), this team (and the league as a whole) has gone through a major overhaul and has taken some tough, one-sided losses to teams they used to routinely beat (Forest City and Queen City). Nonetheless, Belle City has the disadvantage of having limited play against outside competition, while the Harlots have gotten a few under their belts this season already.

The Rideau Valley Vermin will consist of rookie and experienced skaters, including members of the 2011 Beast of the East Champion Slaughter Daughters. (photo by Derek Lang)

Next up, the Rideau Valley Vermin take on the upstarts from the Atlantic, the Muddy River Lumbersmacks. Moncton has lead the recent explosion of flat track derby on the east coast (six leagues and counting), and with recent victories over Halifax and Fog City (Saint John) have proven that they deserve this spot in the tournament. As quickly as this Moncton team has come along, they are in tough against the Vermin, a mixed team of veteran and new skaters from RVRG that has yet to play together, but will boast members of the WFTDA apprentice Vixens. The Muddy River skaters are aware of the challenge they face. “We’re super excited (to be) schooled by Rideau Valley right from the get go!” says Muddy Rivers’ Brandy Swifter. “We definitely hope to use (the tournament) as a great learning process.” A sentiment echoed by the other inexperienced leagues, and the experienced ones as well. “It’s a great opportunity for us to train our newer players in an actual competitive game environment” says RVRG veteran Dee Dee Tee discussing the forward thinking decision behind entering the Vermin into the tournament. “We expect nothing but good to come from the experience we are poised to gain this season,” she concludes.

The Forest City travel team will be led by an experienced core of Thames Fatales skaters. (photo by Joe Mac)

Like Moncton, Guelph’s Royal City has been turning some heads in its first year of operation, putting up increasingly great fights against considerably more experienced competition from GTA and Tri-City. But they too, being a comparatively inexperienced team, have gotten a tough draw in a Forest City All Stars team that hasn’t played since the earliest days of the league’s existence, but will have an experienced lineup regardless. No doubt it will draw heavily from Thames Fatales, which has had an excellent 2011 thus far. The new hometeam, the Luscious Lunch Ladies, has developed very quickly as well, scoring a huge victory over the Harlots in May. Veteran skater Anya Face is relaxed about the tournament, and sees it as an opportunity to improve. “We are there to play some roller derby, and see if our strategies work,” she says, adding “we are always learning new off-the-wall strategies … so to try them out in a game situation (allows us) to see what works.” Depending on how the skaters from the two teams merge, Forest City could be a team to watch.

GTA's Derby Debutants gave the Royal City All Stars their first taste of competitive derby in May. (photo by Joe Mac)

Finally, two veteran leagues that are still waiting for that competitive breakthrough will close out the opening round match ups. Despite their similarities in lineage, the GTA Rollergirls have had a much more consistent run than Ottawa Roller Derby and will be tracking a team of all stars brought together from its two home teams. Another clear advantage for GTA is how much track time they’ve already logged this season as both the Derby Debutantes and the Chrome Mollys are deep into their seasons. ORD, on the other hand, has been out of the top level of competition since its last appearance at the Beast of the East in 2009, but could use this as a stepping stone to greater competitive heights.

Moncton's Muddy River will be hosting the Atlantic Jamboree where experience gained at the Blood Spill will undoubtedly be shared.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Given the mix of teams, it might be worth expecting the unexpected. With Forest City, Rideau Valley, and GTA sending new mixed teams, and Hammer City sending its B team, the tournament is actually wide open and could come down to which of these teams is able to gel the quickest. This could actually work to the advantage of those newer teams (Royal City and Muddy River) who have been picking up considerable experience playing together as of late. But the core players who will make up each of the more experienced teams will certainly given them the edge. Rideau Valley has been dominating all levels of play, with their only losses in the past two years coming against some of the top teams in the country in Montreal, Toronto and Tri-City. But their experience here and abroad will make them clear front runners. Similarly, Forest City has come a long way in the past few years, developing into a tough, strategically sound league and also have to be considered front runners. But the importance of this tournament stretches far beyond who wins and losses. “By hosting and participating we hope to raise more awareness of the sport in Canada, raise the level of play and promote a nationwide competition.” Dee Dee Tee answers when asked about the goal of the tournament. The new Ontario leagues will be able to measure themselves up against the next stage of competition, while Muddy River will gain valuable experience just in time for the Atlantic Jamboree where they can, in turn, share it with their sister leagues back east.

** For more information visit the event page on Facebook. Tickets are available online and at select vendors in Ottawa.

**Not going to be there!? Catch all the action live on Canuck Derby TV.

**The Nerd’s participation in Blood Spill on the Hill was made possible, in part, by the fine people at Neon Skates:

**Tournament Schedule:

Saturday, June 18, 2011

ROUND ONE

Game 1  Hamilton Harlots (Hammer City Roller Girls) vs Belles of the Brawl (Bell City Roller Girls—Brantford ) 9am
Game 2  Rideau Valley Vermin (RVRG) vs  Lumbersmacks  (Muddy River Rollers—Moncton) 11am
Game 3 Forest City All Stars (FCDG—London)  vs Royal City All Stars (Royal City Rollergirls—Guelph) 1pm
Game 4 G-Stars (GTA Rollergirls) vs Ottawa Roller Derby  3pm

RELEGATION

Game 5 (Loser of Game 1 vs Loser of Game 2) 5pm
Game 6 (Loser of Game 3 vs Loser of Game 4) 7pm

Sunday, June 19, 2011
SEMIFINALS

Game 7 (Winner of Game 1 vs Winner of Game 3) 9am
Game 8 (Winner of Game 2 vs Winner of Game 4) 11am

RELEGATION

Game 9 (Winner of Game 5 vs Winner of Game 6) 1pm (for 5th Place)
Game 10 (Loser of Game 7 vs Loser of Game 8 ) 3pm (for 3rd Place)

CHAMPIONSHIP

Game 11 (Winner of Game 7 vs Winner of Game 8 ) 5pm