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
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
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.
***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.