On September 24th, 2010, in White Plains, New York, the whistle blew on a WFTDA Eastern Region quarterfinal playoff game between Boston and Montreal. By game-play standards, it would be a pretty normal duel: Boston, the 3rd seed, held off 6th seeded Montreal 147-85 to advance. However, this seemingly regular playoff game announced something special: competitive flat track roller derby had gone international.
Sure, the international game had been born four years earlier when flat track derby first burst forth from US borders and set up camp in Canada, England, Germany, Australia and New Zealand, but until Montreal’s unprecedented run through the 2010 season, the upper echelons of the competitive game had been exclusive to the founding nation.
By 2011, London had joined Montreal in the playoffs, and the international influx was on. Only five years since Montreal’s debut, there will now be a remarkable twelve international teams represented in the Division 1 playoffs (and one more in D2). Canada still leads the way with five teams (Montreal, Terminal City, Toronto, Tri-City, and Rideau Valley), but now Australia (Victoria, Sun State) and Sweden (Stockholm and Crime City) both have two leagues represented and joining them are teams from Finland (Helsinki) and Scotland (Glasgow). It is a remarkable development in what has been a remarkable evolution of the sport and of its primary governing body, the WFTDA, itself celebrating its 10th anniversary this season.
D1 TUCSON (Sept. 4-6) : Terminal City All Stars (27th overall, 7th seed) and Tri-City Thunder (40th, 10th).
Last year, Tri-City Thunder was involved in the first ever all-Canadian WFTDA playoff showdown when they squared off against Montreal in the consolation bracket at the Salt Lake City Division 1 playoff (falling 366-145); this year, the team from Kitchener-Waterloo is guaranteed to be involved in the second as they’ll meet Vancouver’s Terminal City All Stars in the opening round of the opening weekend of the 2015 WFTDA Division 1 playoffs in Tucson, Arizona.
This is the second-straight D1 appearance for Tri-City following an up-and-down season that saw them reach as high as 38th and fall as low as 54th before settling into the second-to-last playoff spot in the WFTDA’s highest division. The inconsistent nature of the season was evident in the team’s final regular season games losing to D2 Chicago Outfit before knocking off D2 Brewcity to round out a 7-3 year that featured great victories over, among others, national rival Calgary (208-196—they were ranked 46th at the time) and perennial D1ers Queen City (175-163).
After an off-season that saw the team lose some key long-time players (including virtually the whole jammer rotation), the team has rebuilt surprisingly quickly. Transfers Crazy Squirrel and Honey Badger (who has considerable D1 playoff experience after her time in Montreal) make up the core of that new offense and both have been excellent this season. Last year, playing for the New Skids on the Block, Badger managed 5.42 points per jam and a 56% lead percentage in four playoff games (including a 59 pt.–67% game against Arch Rival in the Consolation Final).
Thunder, however, will be in tough against a Terminal City team whose seemingly so-so 8-6 regular season record suddenly looks a little more impressive when its noted that some of the losses came to teams like Rose City, Bay Area, and Denver. The highlights of the season include victories over national rivals Toronto (a surprisingly one-sided 239-122 win) and Montreal (182-177, ending the Skids’ 17-game Canadian winning streak).
Although they lost some key skaters in the pack this season (Lisa Suggit and Karlene Harvey for example), the offense remains intact, led by last year’s playoff revelation Maiden Sane. Sane, who came up with Regina’s Pile O’ Bones Derby Club and was part of the National team in 2011, transferred to the team late in 2014 and ended up leading the team in playoff scoring (340 pts. with an 8.1 PPJ) and lead percentrage (69%). Kim Janna, who missed last year’s playoffs while recovering from injury, is back and will bolster the offense this year.
An expected Terminal City win will see them advance to take on mighty (but rebuilding) Bay Area in the quarterfinals while Tri-City would have a tough consolation showdown against either Charm City or Rocky Mountain.
D1 DALLAS (Sept. 11-13): Rideau Valley Vixens (41st, 10th)
Last year, the Rideau Valley Vixens captured the hearts and minds of Canadian roller derby fans with an inspired run through the D2 playoffs, winning the first ever all-international tournament final over Bear City, before giving a powerful Detroit team all it could handle in the D2 Championship game. This year, they’ll be part of an all-international showdown when they take on the surging Sun State team from Brisbane, Australia, in the 7-10 seeding game.
Not much has changed in the Vixens’ roster this season with its team coming back nearly fully intact and its jammer rotation holding steady, including its enigmatic potential superstar jammer Shania Pain still studying/living/working all across the country and only getting to play and practice with the team sporadically. However, it was long-time veteran jammer Soul Rekker who led the way in the clutch last season, finishing the Division playoffs as second overall leading scorer (with 345 points over three games). Rekker (at 66%) also led her team in lead percentage, although all three primary scorers recorded at least a 51% for the tournament. Its experienced blocker core, however, leads the team; featuring returning skaters like BLackeyE, Bottema, Brennan, Murphy, Reyes, Rudolph, junior graduate Jamie’s Got a Gun and double threat Sister Disaster, it’s a deep, multi-faceted blocker roster capable of big things and whose performance will ultimately determine how far this team goes.
A Friday morning win would see the Vixens face off against a reloaded and refocused Texas team in the quarterfinals, while a loss would see them face the loser of the Rat City/Stockholm quarterfinal in the consolation bracket.
D1 OMAHA (Oct. 2-4): Montreal’s New Skids on the Block (16th, 4th) and Toronto’s CN Power (32nd, 8th)
In April of this season, Toronto, who had never defeated Montreal’s New Skids on the Block, had Canada’s top team on the ropes. Going blow-for-blow throughout and leading for a portion of the game, CN power couldn’t hold off its long-time rivals in the end, dropping a heartbreaking 180-171 decision. You could argue that Toronto never quite recovered from that heartbreak, stumbling through the rest of the season after such a promising start (they’d handily knocked off Boston and Steel City leading up to that game), struggling to hold off D2 opponents while suffering some heavy one-sided losses to their D1 counterparts, ending up at 6-6 on the season and dropping from a season high of 24th to its current ranking (its lowest point in over two years, since June 2013).
Montreal, on the other hand, has had the opposite trajectory in 2014. Starting things off slowly after significant off-season change saw some of the team’s first generation of players retire, the team has gotten better as the year has gone on. Following the May loss to Terminal City, the Skids went on an incredibly dominant six-game winning streak capped off with a best-ever 197-point spanking of long-time rivals Charm City (who had upset them by a single point in last year’s Division playoff quarterfinals) and an incredibly narrow 12-point loss to 10th ranked Philly to finish 9-2 on the season in sanctioned play.
Toronto did have significant roster turnover in the off-season, including the loss of their top two playoff leading scoring jammers (Motorhead Molly and Dusty) and the transfer of (arguably) its top blocker to Montreal (Dyna Hurtcha) among others. The offense was bolstered by a couple of ready-for-D1 jammers in Mad Megz and Smoka Cola (who has suffered a devastating broken leg on the eve of playoffs and will join similarly broken blocker BiggleySmallz on the sidelines) and Bellefast (who was actually called up from the B-team for last year’s playoffs, picking up some critical big-game experience). Belle will be joined by returning jammer Bala Reina (who missed last year’s playoffs) and a couple of B-team call-ups in multi-talented Beaver Mansbridge and breakout jammer Sleeper Hold. The defense is still led by long-time blocker (and National Team member) Nasher the Smasher, Team Mexico leader Renny Rumble with second-year CN Power blocker Ames to Kill emerging as the future (and present) core of the pack, but watch out for crafty (cut-drawing) vet Mega Bouche and hard-hitting Misery Mae as well.
Montreal’s offense returns mostly intact with Mel E Juana and Miracle Whips back, and internally developed Falcon Punch taking Honey Badger’s spot in the top three. In the pack, a long-time core remains (Jess Bandit, Cheese Grater for example) and is bolstered by the arrival of Team Canada transfers Dyna Hurtcha (Toronto) and KonichiWOW (part of this year’s Windy City exodus).
Despite the high rank (16th), you could make the argument that expectations have never been lower for Montreal and yet it’s entirely conceivable that they could finally advance to champs this year; however, it looks as if they will need to defeat Champs host Minnesota (at the very least) to do so (but should have no problem getting by Windy City in the quarterfinals; a team they beat by 206 points in June, to set up a semifinal showdown against Gotham).
Toronto kicks things off against familiar rivals Queen City, a team they have defeated three times in a row now dating back to October 2011. A victory will see them advance to take on Gotham in the quarterfinals, which—barring a miracle of the largest magnitude—would see them in the consolation semifinals against, most likely, No Coast or Helsinki (or Windy City, but only if that team is capable of slowing its momentous slide during the regular season) with a chance to improve its ranking to 5th