Montreal Roller Derby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nerd Glasses

CANADIAN ROUND-UP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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Canadian Power Rankings: December 1, 2014

Captain Lou El Bammo, Dick Pounder, Dr. Jenny Fever and Derby Nerd rank Canada’s top A-level travel teams every two months. Read the August 1st Power Rankings here.

TEAM (League) CHANGE NOTES (Rollergirl.ca /WFTDA rank)
1.Terminal City All Stars (Terminal City Roller Girls)Terminal City All Stars +1 It’s happened. A new team at the top of the power rankings for the first time ever. After absolutely dominating the West Coast Dust Up, Terminal City lost a hard-fought game against Rat City in the first round of the WFTDA playoffs followed by two big consolation round wins and another nail-biter, a 26-point loss to Tampa to close out their season. After their narrow loss to Montreal at ECDX, it seemed like only a matter of time. (/ 18).
2. New Skids on the Block (Montreal Roller Derby)

Montreal Roller Derby: New Skids on the Block

-1  After fighting off challenges all season, the Skids finally slip a single spot in the rankings. Yet another heartbreaking playoff loss (by a single point to their rivals from Charm City) was followed by an impressive run through the consolation bracket.  (1 / 17)
3.CN Power (Toronto Roller Derby)New CNP Logo -  A challenging season for Toronto was capped off with a nice playoff win over Steel City in the 7th place consolation game in their division. After a strong start, inconsistencies plagued CN Power all season. (4 / 27)
4.Calgary All Stars (Calgary Roller Derby Association)Calgary All Stars Logo +2 (6)  After a record-setting climb up the WFTDA rankings ladder, where they now sit in a D2 playoff position, Calgary continues its climb up the power rankings as well. A perfect 12-0 season (8-0 in sanctioned play) was capped by a stunning performance at the Maple Stir Up in August that included a win over D2 finalists Rideau Valley.  (3 / 57)
5. Rideau Valley Vixens (Rideau Valley Roller Girls)

Vixens Logo

-  The Vixens topped off a strong season with a thrilling run through the WFTDA D2 playoffs, falling in the final to a mighty Detroit team for only their second loss on a 10-2 season. (5 / 36)
6. Tri-City Thunder (Tri-City Rller Derby)Tri-City Thunder Logo -2 (4)  The Thunder had a busy 2014 that saw them compile a 9-9 record that reflects some of the highs and lows they encountered this season. A 5-point win over Oklahoma in their final consolation round playoff game took away some of the sting after back-to-back blow out losses to Montreal and Arch Rival. This is the first time the Thunder have slipped out of the top five. (7/44)

7.Misfit Militia (Misfit Militia Roller Derby)
Misfit Militia Logo

-   Although the enigmatic Misfit Militia had a quiet year, they looked very impressive when they did play. The only blemish on their 7-1 record was a season-opening loss to the Vixens. They capped off the year by picking up their second-straight victory over ToRD’s Bay Street Bruisers. (6 / -)
8. Belladonnas (Red Deer Roller Derby Association)Belladonnas Logo +1 (9)  After a late re-entry into the rankings this year, the Belladonnas move up another spot. Their loss to Calgary this season after four straight wins over CRDA dating back to 2011 signaled a power shift in the Canadian West. The team finished a quiet 2014 with a 3-3 record. (8 / -)
9.  Les Duchesses (Roller Derby Quebec)Duchesses Logo +1 (10)  Les Duchesses went 7-0 this season with an average margin of victory of 200 points against a lot of teams that only a short time ago would have been considered their equals. Back-to-back wins against Muddy River this summer remain a season highlight for this team from Quebec. (10/ -)
10. Anarchy Angels (Mainland Misfits Roller Derby)

Angel-logo-bw

unranked  Welcome to the power rankings Anarchy Angels! After being on the “Teams to Watch” list all season, Mainland Misfits’ all stars finally debut after compiling a 6-3 record this season (primarily through July and August), with two of their losses coming to the power-ranked Belladonnas and Terminal City (against whom they managed to notch 119 points). (12 / – )

The debate has raged all year. And after a season in which they seemed to repel onslaught after onslaught against their status as the top team in the country, the Terminal City All Stars have slipped ahead of Montreal’s New Skids on the Block to take top spot in the final power rankings of 2014. Consistent performances all year long and an ever-strengthening roster that seems as if it still has more time to continue to develop has made this team a national powerhouse with staying power. Both Vancouver and Toronto were nipping at Montreal’s heels to start the season, but while CN Power faded, Terminal City continued to flourish.

Calgary was the biggest mover and shaker yet again, concluding the season they same way they started it: winning big games. This team seems to have it all, depth in the pack and an explosive jammer rotation, and will be the recipients of even more depth as veteran skater Taz from perennial Top 10ers, the Belladonnas, will be transferring there for next season. She is one of at least two transfers parting ways with Red Deer next season, leaving the Belladonnas with some questions about their roster.

The lone debutantes on the list are the Mainland Misfits’ Anarchy Angels, a team that the rankings crew has been watching for quite a while now. They leap into the rankings based as much on the tumble of some other teams, namely Hammer City, as the strength of their own season, which was solid, but lacked some comparable competition.

ON THE BUBBLE

Lumbersmacks (Muddy River Rollers)

It was truly a great season for Muddy River, who made some brave forays into Quebec and Ontario this year on road trips that may not have led to victory, but were undeniably valuable nonetheless. They finished 2014 with a 9-6 record, including a dominating performance at the 2014 Slay Of Fundy where they managed to distance themselves a bit from their chief east-coast rivals, Fog City with a 228-127 win. As undisputed queens of the Maritimes, Muddy River will need to continue its travels to ensure the level of competition they will need to keep building itself up. They picked up a lot of momentum this season that they will hopefully build on in 2015.

TEAMS TO WATCH

All Stars (Winnipeg Roller Derby League)

Sugar Skulls (Pile ‘O Bones Derby Club)

E-Ville Dead (E-Ville Roller Derby)

Avalanche City Roller Girls (Fernie Roller Derby Society)

Mind Fox (Saskatoon Roller Derby League)

These are basically the teams we’ve been watching all season and we will continue to do so to see if they can build on some advances made this year or overcome some inconsistencies. Former Top 10ers, the Mind Fox, return to the list after briefly falling from our radar.

PLAYERS WE WATCHED

At the beginning of the season, we listed five players to watch, players we thought might have a big impact on their teams. Thinking that Calgary was due for a big season, we pointed out two of their jammers to watch and both have had an impressive 2014. Easy Break Oven and Kris Myass were solid this year, with Kris perhaps earning the nod as the biggest standout of the bunch, perhaps even in the country as a whole, leading her team’s offense through their impressive first season in the WFTDA, while also earning herself a spot on Team Canada; she seems to be working her way up the depth chart on that team as well and look for her to be a key piece of the Canadian jammer rotation at this week’s Roller Derby World Cup.

We thought it may have been a similar story for Toronto’s Rainbow Fight, and it started out that way. She was dominant in a pre-season game against Team Ontario and then again in the WFTDA season opener against Killamazoo despite the fact that she suffered a lacerated kidney in that game. The injury kept her out for the duration of the season, and she is now taking some time away from the sport.

We also picked two skaters from Tri-City to watch, and while Meow Wallace was a steady presence in her team’s pack, Fraxxure, the team’s co-captain, emerged as one of the Thunder’s top blockers, logging heavy minutes all season but particularly in the playoffs when it mattered most.

Nerd Glasses

*These rankings were compiled by the Derby Nerd, Captain Lou El Bammo, Dick Pounder, and Dr. Jenny Fever.

*Read the Canadian Power Rankings 2014 preview here.

-Respectful disagreement and debate is encouraged!-

Canadian Power Rankings: August 1, 2014

Captain Lou El Bammo, Dick Pounder, Dr. Jenny Fever and Derby Nerd rank Canada’s top A-level travel teams every two months. Read the June 1st Power Rankings here.

TEAM (League) CHANGE NOTES (Rollergirl.ca /WFTDA rank)
1. New Skids on the Block (Montreal Roller Derby)

Montreal Roller Derby: New Skids on the Block

- Sometimes experience can overcome everything else. Despite finally slipping to second in both the Canadian Rankings and WFTDA (one spot behind Terminal City), the Skids keep overcoming the odds and winning when they need to. Their 199-177 victory over Terminal City at ECDX allows them to maintain their power ranking lead. However, they looked inconsistent in a blowout loss to Victorian followed by a strong showing against Windy City.  (/ 19).
2. Terminal City All Stars (Terminal City Roller Girls)Terminal City All Stars - Vancouver enters the  WFTDA playoffs as the top Canadian team by virtually every metric out there except on: wins and losses. Terminal City’s only loss in the last three months has come against the Skids, but they are most recently coming off of solid wins against Boston and Houston.  (1 / 18)
3.CN Power (Toronto Roller Derby)New CNP Logo - After an inconsistent start to the season (including a nine-game losing streak), Toronto had knocked off three wins in a row before a fairly one-sided loss to Charm City (282-146) ended the streak. They seem to be reeling as they prepare for playoffs, but last season came together when it mattered most, so don’t count them out just yet. (3 / 23)
4. Tri-City Thunder (Tri-City Roller Derby)Tri-City Thunder Logo - Since the last Power Rankings, Tri-City has knocked off three-straight wins (including a crushing 281-67 win over former D1ers Bleeding Heartland) and, of course, became the fourth Canadian team to qualify for the D1 Playoffs, thereby missing out on their own party.  (4 / 40)
5. Rideau Valley Vixens (Rideau Valley Roller Girls)

Vixens Logo

- The Vixens have only played two games since the last Power Rankings, but they were both solid wins over NEO and Green Mountain that allowed them to continue their meteoric rise up the D2 standings. They will have the pleasure of being the first Canadian team to play a playoff game on home soil, and are positioned well for a solid run through the D2 playoffs. (5 / 48)
6.Calgary All Stars (Calgary Roller Derby Association)Calgary All Stars Logo +1 (7)  The reality of the WFTDA slog has seen Calgary slip back a  bit after a ferocious start. Nonetheless, they have continued to impress against Canadian competition, winning three in a row against tough teams in the Kannibelles, The Belladonnas and Winnipeg. They’ll have a chance to live up to this ranking this weekend at the Maple Stir-Up.  (7/105)

7.Misfit Militia (Misfit Militia Roller Derby)
Misfit Militia Logo

+1 (8)  The Misfit Militia continue to baffle. With sometimes seemingly makeshift rosters, the team continues to compete at an incredibly high level. Although they’ve only played once since the last rankings, that game was a monstrous 441-97 win over Forest City. There still doesn’t seem to be much interest in making the leap to the WFTDA, so they may be hard pressed to get many games with top-level competition. (8 / -)
8. The Eh! Team (Hammer City Roller Girls)Hammer City Logo -2 (6) In 2013, Hammer City was one of the hottest teams in the WFTDA. Unfortunately, that hasn’t completely carried over to 2014. Although still favourably ranked in D2, Hammer City has lost all seven of its sanctioned bouts this year by increasingly larger margins. They will be in tough this weekend at their first ever Maple Stir Up tournament, but will have a chance to redeem themselves on their home track. (20 / 83)
9. Belladonnas (Red Deer Roller Derby Association)Belladonnas Logo Unranked The perennial Top 10ers were late to the party this season, but are back and sneak into the Top 10. Tough losses to Treasure Valley and Calgary (despite solid offensive performances) should harden them for the rest of the season. (9 / -)
10. Les Duchesses (Roller Derby Quebec)Duchesses Logo  (-) Les Duchesses were able to hold off another hot team in Muddy River in a home-and-home series that allows them to retain their spot. From the bottom up, this remains an organization on the rise and certainly one to watch as a potential new consistent Canadian powerhouse. (12 / – )

With Hammer City’s historic Maple Stir Up coming up this weekend, the Rankings Crew decided to stagger the release of this month’s Power Rankings. While there wasn’t much change, what there was, was significant. Notably, Calgary jumps two spots based on the Power Rankings Crew’s prediction of a strong showing at the tournament in Hamilton.

Speaking of Maple Stir Up, Hammer City, the hosts, tumble two spots based on increasingly inconsistent play and another long losing streak. The Belladonnas return to action and to the Top 10, knocking out the injury-riddled and roster-shuffling Sugar Skulls, who may have some rebuilding to do. Les Duchesses faced off twice against a bubble team, the Muddy River Rollers, and won both games, if not definitively, then certainly close to that. Finally, the Kootenay Kannibelles are hanging up their skates for the season, so slip from the list for now.

ON THE BUBBLE

Lumbersmacks (Muddy River Rollers)

All Stars (Winnipeg Roller Derby League)

Sugar Skulls (Pile ‘O Bones Derby Club)

The Sugar Skulls have had some roster adjustments recently, and it remains to be seen how the teams respond. Nonetheless, they have proven resilient in the past and remain on the Bubble. Both Winnipeg and Muddy River continue to impress, but each missed opportunities to climb into the Top 10 after suffering losses to ranked opponents.

TEAMS TO WATCH

Anarchy Angels (Mainland Misfits)

E-Ville Dead (E-Ville Roller Derby)

Arch Angels (St. Albert Heavenly Rollers)

Avalanche City Roller Girls (Fernie Roller Derby Society)

Not much change here, except to see the addition of Fernie’s Avalanche City, which has been a hard working team in 2014, compiling an impressive 13-4 record that includes a current six-game winning streak.

*These rankings were compiled by the Derby Nerd, Captain Lou El Bammo, Dick Pounder, and Dr. Jenny Fever.

*Read the Canadian Power Rankings preview and explanation here.

-Respectful disagreement and debate is encouraged!-

Peaches Does Roller Derby: The Clam Slam, WorldPride, and the Most Important Woman in the World

In which the Nerd reflects on the importance of WorldPride, the Clam Slam’s role within it, and how for a few days in September 2012, he was convinced that Peaches was the most important woman in the world.

The Clam Slam, this year a WorldPride Affiliate event, is in its 6th year.

The Clam Slam, this year a WorldPride Affiliate event, is in its 6th year.

As the giddiness of another Toronto Pride celebration begins to fade, the thrill of the event wears off, and it’s hard not to become reflective: on how inclusive and open a city we live, about how wonderful it is to celebrate diversity and difference and live in a place where those things are met with celebration instead if fear.

This year, the world came to our city to celebrate the first ever WorldPride held on North American soil. It meant an increased focus, increased participation, but it also meant an increased awareness of what life is like for members of the LGBTQITSLFA (LGBT) community outside of Canada. In turning our eyes to the struggles of those in places like Uganda, for example, we are able to see how lucky we are here.

Not, of course, to imply that the situation in Canada is perfect. It most certainly is not. We need only look to the thinly veiled homophobic actions and comments by the mayor of the largest city in our country to know that there are still battles to be fought on our own home soil. What we are lucky about here in Canada is that the battle has (mostly)  moved away from the systemic and legal arenas and onto the front lines: it’s become a battle of hand-to-hand combat against the last stragglers in the army of the close-minded. But because of the numerous victories, the battle has also shifted to become both more expansive and more specific, shifting focus toward trans rights or the rights of those members in the LGBT community who are also visible minorities.

In Canada, while these individual battles still rage, we have the support of the system. Most members of the LGBT community in Canada are afforded equal rights by the law. That is a powerful weapon with which to fight the individual ground battles that are still occurring. It is a weapon that many people in the world do not have at their disposal.

Plaid Mafia's WhackedHer (skating as VAGilante) gets sandwiched during the opening game of the Clam Slam.

Plaid Mafia’s WhackedHer (skating as VAGilante) gets sandwiched during the opening game of the Clam Slam. (Photo by Greg Russell)

Arguably, the most moving event at WorldPride was the mass wedding performed at Casa Loma on Thursday, June 26. Featuring nearly 120 couples from around the world, many were from countries where same-sex marriage is still not allowed. What was most shocking was that many participants were from wealthy, developed countries like Australia and South Korea. A grim reminder of how far we are from living on a globally free planet.

Across the city in Ted Reeve Arena, at the same time that this remarkable wedding was happening, representatives from 16 North American roller derby leagues were taking part in the 6th annual Clam Slam: a Pride-affiliate all-star roller derby bout run through a collaboration between Toronto Roller Derby and the Great Toronto Area Rollergirls. This year, however, there was a very special guest on hand to blow the opening whistle of the second and final game of the evening: Peaches. The singer would return the favour a few days later when a group of ToRD skaters appeared on stage during her concert.

Now an international phenomenon, Peaches has been a growing icon in the LGBT community (and well beyond!) since her first album, The Teaches of Peaches, was released in 2000. It has never seemed strange to me that the rise of Peaches’ career has coincided with the rise of flat track roller derby. Both, to me, are absolutely essential aspects of North American life in the 21st century, and both are intricately intertwined with the LGBT community as well.

2003 was an astonishing year—perhaps the first true year of the 21st century (in the same way that some people refer to 1963 as being the first year of what we think of as “The ’60s”). 2003 would be the year of SARS, the year the first deer was cloned, and the Hubble telescope would see so deep into space, it could see galaxies that existed in the few millennia after the Big Bang.

In 2003, Belgium would follow the Netherlands in legalizing same-sex marriage at a national level, while closer to home, the province of Ontario would become the first jurisdiction in the Americas to allow it.

Fans of flat track roller derby also know that in the Austin, Texas, in April, the Texas Rollergirls would host the first official game of flat track roller derby, playing under a rule set that would eventually lead to the WFTDA rule set played so widely today.

The album cover of Peaches' second album, Fatherfucker (2003).

The cover of Peaches’ second album, Fatherfucker (2003).

Peaches would release her second, break-through album, Fatherfucker in September of that year; its very title an affront to any sort of attempt at wide mainstream acceptance. Through two albums, she’d created a gender-defying persona with a heightened sexuality. And, as evidenced by the album title, she didn’t give a fuck what you thought of her. At all. She was going to be herself and she was going to shove that self in your face: you could either look away or you could do your best to take it all in and be awed by it.

My partner was enthralled by Peaches from the first time she heard Peaches’ voice slip in over top of the raw, low-fi beats that begin “Fuck the Pain Away,” the opening track of Teaches of Peaches. Her growing passion for Peaches just got bigger after she discovered and started playing roller derby, a community that as a whole seemed to share my partner’s love for the singer.

One of the first things I noticed about the roller derby community was how big the LGBT community was within it. The revival of the sport had been very much wrapped up in third-wave feminism and was fueled by a punk rock sensibility; especially in Montreal, where I was first seeing the game, roller derby and the LGBT community were fused to the point where I didn’t much think about one without the other. But I also noticed right away that the sport itself—and how inclusive, empowering and all encompassing it could be—led to a certain transcendence of politics. I once wrote about how struck I was that skaters weren’t traditionally feminist in that they didn’t seem to be caught up in a fight for acceptance or inclusion; they simply expected it.

For me, Peaches has always represented a similar attitude. A similar transcendence. For the most part, the persona of Peaches takes the point of view of a woman in her song writing, but she isn’t interested in adhering to any sort of traditional notions of what being a woman is, and as her career has gone on, her persona has become more ambiguous. She just is. There is an overt sexual “baseness” to her writing that is grounded in an extremely physical experience. She is living through her body, experiencing life through her body, and that body happens to be a female one.

Naptown Jammer Maiden America (playing for the Eager Beavers) attempts to pass Montreal's Nameless Whorror (Clam Diggers). (Photo by Greg Russell)

Naptown Jammer Maiden America (playing for the Eager Beavers) attempts to pass Montreal’s Nameless Whorror (Clam Diggers). (Photo by Greg Russell)

Along with her recording career, Peaches has also made some movies, most notably the “electro rock opera” Peaches Does Herself. A sort of psychedelic memoir, it begins as a kind of portrait of the artist as a young women, in which the audience is introduced to a mythologized version of Peaches’ creation. It is, throughout, a celebration of the female body and a carnivalized romp through a woman’s sexual awakening and then experience. Through this process, the film also lays bare the constructed nature of human gender and sexuality, then defies those constraints as the film becomes more surreal and the desires and gender of the characters become more fluid.

I was at the world premiere of Peaches Does Herself, and I remember leaving the Bloor Hot Docs cinema that night convinced that Peaches was the most important woman in the world. She represented the avant garde of female identity in the 21st century: a super-empowered, hyper-sexual being who celebrated her body—all bodies!—with a wild glee.  She was, to put it simply, free to explore how she wanted to be a woman.

Of course, I know it is naïve to think of any performer as the most important anything in the world, yet I am still convinced that the very existence of someone like Peaches makes our world a better place to live.

And I could—and have—said the same about women’s flat track roller derby. Here’s a competitive game built and shaped by women in the midst of a sporting environment absolutely dominated by men. Here’s a game that has not only welcomed the LGBT community but celebrates it, has put it at the core of its growth and has allowed it to shape the nature and attitude of the game. Here’s a sport that has eschewed all traditional notions of what a sport is and how it should be, taken a punk-rock DIY approach and made it work on a national, then cross-border, and now global scale. Roller derby, like Peaches, has become a force of nature. And I think our world is a better place for it.

 

***For the record, the Clam Slam was once again a great success that produced two really, really entertaining games of roller derby. In the first, the Plaid Mafia used a late-game comeback to defeat Team Uhaul 194-178. In the second, the Eager Beavers held off a late charge by the Clam Diggers to record the 193-154 victory. Both games were boutcast live; watch the archives here.

WP Affiliate banner***Portions of this article were excerpted from a book-length work in progress***