WFTDA

Toronto All Stars Roar Back to Life with Big Win Over Roc City

ToRD Roc Neil

This was the first showdown between Toronto and Roc City since 2012. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

It’s been a while since Toronto Roller Derby and Roc City duelled on the flat track: Five years actually, give or take a few weeks, and at that time in March 2012 the two teams were on very different trajectories. Then, Toronto’s 171-108 win was part of a 10-1 to start the 2012 season, while for Roc City it was one of 6 losses in 7 games to kick of theirs. And although the Roc Stars would eventually turn that year around, they would never quite reach the heights that Toronto would. Eighteen months out of that win, the ToRD All Stars were turning heads in their first WFTDA D1 playoff appearance, the first of three straight appearances at the highest competitive level the sport has to offer.

Rina offense

Toronto got off to a quick start and were led offensively by Wolverina’s 135 points. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Fast forward to March 2017 and once again the two teams find themselves on a level playing field: Roc City having held steady over the years (still searching for their first D2 playoff appearance) are coming off of a 6-7, 2016 season and were ranked 92nd in the WFTDA coming into the showdown at The Bunker. Toronto, on the other hand, had fallen even faster than they’d previously risen. A disastrous 2016 saw the team go 2-8 with an average margin of loss of 213 points and tumble from a height of 23rd in the WFTDA to the 99th spot they held before Saturday night’s game. The result of a mass retirement of virtually a generation of skaters and the growing pains associated with restructuring and rebranding the All Stars, last season proved to be one of rebuilding. And that rebuilt roster was on full display on Saturday, the results of which should be cause for optimism.

Toronto burst off the starting line off after the opening whistle putting up 17 points over three jams before Roc City could even register a point, all part of a run of 6 straight lead jammer statuses and a 51-24 scoring spree that saw Toronto jump out to an early lead. The lead could have been ever higher but early penalty troubles (part of a 29-penalty opening half for the home team) resulted in a lot of pack disadvantages.

Muffin D Neil

Despite early penalty troubles, the Toronto defence held steady. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

While Toronto’s jammer rotation included house league favourites Banshee and Monster Muffin, the crowd also got its first glimpse of the season of all-star-exclusive jammers Wolverina (who would lead the game in scoring with an impressive 135 points on a 90% lead percentage) and off-season transfer Pikante (95 points, 80%) from Helskinki’s Kallio Rolling Rainbow (she’s also a member of Portugal’s national team).

Despite the pack penalties, Toronto managed to extend its lead to 103-39 just past the midway point of the opening period, one they extended to 175-71 at the break.

Considering the Toronto skaters have spent most of their season so far knocking each other around in ToRD’s ultra-competitive house league, aside from the penalty troubles (that only got marginally better in the second half), the lines were tight. Constructed around home-team cores, one side of the All Stars pack featured the Chicks Ahoy! core of Boxcar, Joss Wheelin’ and Meg Fenway complemented by the Death Track Dolls’ Kate Silver and the Smoke City Bandits’ Jessica Rabid. Meanwhile, the other line saw the Gore-Gore Rollergirls’ core of Will Wrecker, Santa Muerte and Viktory Lapp completed with the Dolls’ Dawson and the Bandits’ titmouse. Both lines had strong moments throughout and both saw a foul out as well (Kate Silver and Santa Muerte).

Kandy neil

Kandy Krusher paced the offence for Roc City with 48 points. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

The second half was a near mirror image of the first: a 45-18 opening five-minute run for Toronto extended to 296-112 with ten minutes to go and although the Roc Stars outscored Toronto 19-18 over the final three jams, it barely put a dent in Toronto’s 380-138 win.

 

It was the first time in nearly three years that Toronto managed to crest the 300-point mark, and along with the contributions from Wolverina and Pikante got 105 points from Banshee and 46 points from Monster Muffin, who had to leave the game early in the second half due to injury.

Roc City was led on the scoreboard by Kandy Krusher’s 48 points and Florence Fightingale’s 44. In the pack they were led by co-captains Hater Tot and double threat Terminal Trend and the hard hitting D-Day.

The All Stars will face off against Ottawa’s Capital City at the Bunker on April 22 before heading to Tri-City’s third-annual Beaver Fever tournament in June. Meanwhile, Toronto Roller Derby returns with its house league playoff quarterfinals on April 8 at the Bunker.

*The Toronto Vipers also made their 2017 debut on Saturday with an impressive 264-179 loss to the significantly more experienced Belleville Roller Derby Bombshells. A strong start to the season for ToRD’s future stars.

Vioers Neil.jpg

The Vipers (in red) made their 2017 debut. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

 

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End-of-year Power Rankings: December 2016

Captain Lou El Bammo, Dick Dafone, and Derby Nerd periodically rank Canada’s top A-level travel teams. Read the the mid-season 2016 (June) 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  – After stumbling against Philly at ECDX, mid-season roster changes shook up the team chemistry, and after it had time to settle, the Skids knocked off Bay Area to become the first Canadian team to advance to WFTDA Champs where they put a scare into Angel City in the quarterfinals, which was enough to secure top spot. (1 / 19)
2. Terminal City All Stars (Terminal City Roller Girls)Terminal City All Stars
 – Despite the fifth place finish in their D1 playoff, it could be argued that Terminal City had a better playoff tournament than Montreal. They lost narrowly (164-162) against Philly before cruising through the consolation bracket. Their spot in the top 2, well ahead of the competition, remains secure. (2 / 18)
3.Calgary All Stars (Calgary Roller Derby Association)Calgary All Stars Logo  Although a 5th seed, Calgary tore through its D2 playoff tournament, including knocking off top seed Charm City along the way to finish in the top spot in the playoff. Finishing third overall in WFTDA’s Division 2 is more than enough to hold on to third spot. (4 / 45)
4. Misfit Militia (Orangeville Roller Girls) Misfit Militia Logo  +1 Went 6-1 in 2016 including a 147-144 unsanctioned win against D1’s Queen City. The teams only loss on the season came against an ever-improving Toronto Men’s Roller Derby team (200-159). However, their obvious talent and lack of WFTDA ranking continue to make top-level competition hard to come by. (3 /-)
5. Rideau Valley Vixens (Rideau Valley Roller Girls)Vixens Logo +1 A 4-7 regular season saw the Vixens tumble out of the D2 playoffs. However, the bright side is that many of those seven losses came against top-flight competition including the likes of Montreal, Jacksonville, and Philly. It was an incredibly challenging schedule that may have them currently under-ranked and that could pay track-experience dividends in 2017. (10/93)
6. E-Ville Dead (E-Ville Roller Derby)

evrd_final_logo

unranked They’ve risen from the dead once again! E-Ville has been in and out of the Top 10 over the years, and now reenters once again, surging into the middle of the pack for the first time since last year’s end-of-season rankings. E-Ville had an incredible year with a record of 8-1 including victories over Top-10 Winnipeg (207-132) and Watch-Listers Mainland Misfits (279-89). The team’s only loss on the season was to provincial rivals and D2 bronze medalists Calgary (241-114).  (5 / 91)
7. All Stars (Winnipeg Roller Derby League) winnipeg logo  +1 Winnipeg inches forward a spot but gets stopped in its tracks by surging E-Ville (who defeated them 207-132 to earn the spot). The All Stars do hold their spot ahead of Muddy River based on strength of schedule. They went 8-5 on the season, helping them move to their highest WFTDA ranking yet. (9 / 84)
8. Lumbersmacks (Muddy River Rollers)Lumbersmacks Logo +1 The little league that just keeps going. Muddy River’s consistency over the past few season has been incredible given their size and location. This year they travelled far and wide once again compiling a 6-4 record along the way, including early season wins over Capital City and Quebec. A big late-season loss to Orangeville’s Misfit Militia was unsanctioned and didn’t effect their 16-spot jump in the WFTDA rankings.  (11 / 85)
9. Dolly Rogers (Capital City Derby Dolls)
Capital City Derby Dolls Logo
+1 The Dolly Rogers capped off their 5-4 season with a massive sanctioned win against Central NY that helped their 8-spot jump in the WFTDA rankings. Narrow wins against teams just outside of the Top 10 allow them to secure their spot and nudge forward, finally moving out of the long-held 10 spot. (8 / 106)
10.Tri-City Thunder (Tri-City Rller Derby)Tri-City Thunder Logo  -6 Tri-City had an up-and-down year in 2016, eventually finishing with a 5-10 record. After a promising two and one start (including a rare win over Toronto), Thunder lost seven of eight regular season games the rest of the way. A decent playoff run saw them improve their 9th place seeding to 6th in their D2 tournament. However, yet another off season shake-up to the jammer rotation means that Tri-City’s rebuild will be continuing into 2017. (6 / 57)

The Rankings

No changes to the Top 3 as Canada’s lone WFTDA playoff teams remain at the top of the sport in the nation. Montreal retains top spot based on an incredible performance at the WFTDA Championship tournament, playing, arguably, the team’s best game of the season against a very good Angel City team. After reloading their roster in 2016, The New Skids on the Block also look very good to remain atop the nation’s power rankings in 2017 as well. It remains to be seen whether Terminal City and Calgary (who became only the second team to win a Division 2 playoff tournament) can push through some expected 0ff-season roster changes to remain at their current levels.

The rest of the list has gone through some shifts and changes. Most notably, for the first time in the history of these Power Rankings, Toronto has dropped out of the Top 10. Although leagues like Orangeville and Muddy River are proof that size doesn’t always matter, the reality is that Toronto is simply too big and too deep to keep down for long and expect a slow but steady rise in 2017 as the All Stars rebuild. This drop, however, made room for a resurgent E-Ville. For the second year in a row, the Edmonton-based team makes an appearance on the year-end rankings. This time, however, it should be sustainable as the E-Ville Dead have the roster to remain in the conversation through 2017. The final major shift is with Tri-City. Thunder sees itself tumble to 10th place. The team had a solid 2016, but some post-playoff roster changes will see the team need to rebuild its offense once again.

Orangeville, Rideau Valley, Winnipeg, Muddy River, and Capital City all hold steady, nudging upwards based on Toronto’s and Tri-City’s dips.

The Watch List

Anarchy Angels (Mainland Misfits Roller Derby) (12th)

Les Duchesses (Roller Derby Quebec) (13th)

Brute-Leggers (Royal City Roller Girls) (14th)

Northstars (Rated PG Rollergirls) (15th)

ToRD All Stars (Toronto Roller Derby) (16th)

The A Team (Eves of Destruction) (18th)

E-Ville and Toronto have switched places on the Watch List/Top 10, while the Anarchy Angels, Roller Derby Quebec, and Royal City remain on our radars as we close out the 2016 season. However, there are some exciting new editions on the watch list.

The Northstars of Prince George’s Rated PG Rollergirls are coming off of an 8-0 season that saw them rise above the competition with a margin of victory of 158 points. These eight wins included big victories over B-travel teams from Top 10 Terminal City and E-Ville and two of Calgary’s house leagues, proving that they have graduated to a higher competitive stage. Similarly, one of Canada’s oldest flat track teams, Victoria’s Eves of Destruction are finally beginning to tear it up against some quality competition. Boasting a perennially successful local league, the EoD A Team went 5-0 on the season including a victory over the Jane Deeres (Calgary’s B-team) and former Top 10 team Mindfox out of Saskatoon to launch themselves onto the Watch List.

Nerd Glasses

*These rankings were compiled by the Derby Nerd, Captain Lou El Bammo, Dick Dafone

*These are the final Power Rankings of the year. Read the mid-season Power Rankings here.

-Respectful disagreement and debate is encouraged!-

A Look Back at 10 Seasons of ToRD

ToRD 2016 Season Opener Banner

In real time it’s been a decade. In derby time, it’s been forever. On May 29th, 2007, over a year after two distinct groups began to meet and plan on how to play the sport, Toronto Roller Derby made its debut. The two teams who took to the track that night represented both arms of the founding teams of ToRD: the Smoke City Betties—one of only two Canadian flat track teams formed in 2006 still operating—squared off against the Bay Street Bruisers at George Bell Arena. The Bruisers themselves had formed after Toronto’s other original team, the Terrors, had divided into four separate teams.

Bruisers Betties 2007 Angela Hayes

The Smoke City Betties and the Bay Street Bruisers squared off in the first game in ToRD history in May 2007. (Photo by Angela Hayes)

The game played that night would now be nearly unrecognizable to the fans who will line the track at the Bunker on Saturday night to kick off ToRD’s 10th season. For one, the game was played in three twenty minute periods, but on the track the teams were still trying to figure out what flat track roller derby was all about. At that point in the sport’s development, the game looked closer to its banked-track antecedent than to what flat track derby would eventually become: there was a lot of skating and chasing and little of the aggressive grinding contact seen in the game now. That opening match in ToRD’s history would see the Betties outlast the Bruisers 83-81. It would be as close as the Bruisers would ever come to a victory in ToRD.

On Saturday, Chicks Ahoy! will take on the Death Track Dolls while the Gore-Gore Roller Girls will challenge those Betties in fitting historical games to kick off this historical season. These are long rivalries in the sport, as long as any in the Canadian game. Like the Bruisers, the Dolls and Chicks both sprung forth from the Terrors in the summer of 2006 and first squared off in ToRD regular season play in August 2007 with the Chicks taking a narrow victory 138-123. The Gores sprung directly from the Betties in the fall of 2006 when that team’s numbers become too large. The two would not meet in ToRD’s first season, but would face each other for the first time early in the 2008 season with the Gores trouncing the Betties 120-47.

Much has changed in the interim, most notably, two of ToRD’s original six house league teams survived only the first two seasons in that form. The D-VAS, after going 2-6 over that span and not making the playoffs, would fold. Following in their footsteps would be the Bruisers, who had never managed to pick up a win in eight attempts. The D-VAS, of course, would be resurrected as the league’s farm team in 2010, while the Bruisers would also return, serving as ToRD’s B-travel team from 2012-2015.

To prepare for this historic season, let’s take a further look into Toronto Roller Derby’s rich history.

Gore-Gore Rollergirls logo

Gore-Gore Rollergirls

Total Regular Season Record: 24-5

Battle for the Boot Appearances: 8 (2007-’12, ’14-’15)

Battle for the Boot Championships: 3 (2007, ’09, ’10)

Despite not winning The Boot since 2010, the Gores remain the most successful team in ToRD history. With a dominant record in regular season play (83% winning percentage) and eight appearances in the championship game, add to that a victory (2014) in two finals appearances (2011, ’14) in the venerable Beast of the East tournament, and the Gores have never had a down year in their existence.

The Gores’ early seasons were defined by a killer offence led by ToRD’s two all-time leading scorers Bambi and Dust Bunny (the only jammers in ToRD’s history to score over 800 career points). This offensive trend has continued allowing them to place six skaters in ToRD’s Top 10 career scoring list. One of those skaters, Lexi Con, remains with the team in 2016 and will anchor a jammer rotation that also potentially features Beaver Mansbridge, Murdercat! and Betties’ transfer Wackedher. But this team is also known for its standout blockers, including two of the greats of all time Brim Stone and Foxy Sinatra. The 2016 Gores are led by two long-serving veterans, Santa Muerte and Jill Em All and are bolstered by a core of experienced players (Chronic, Gamma Rei) and emerging on and off-track leaders (Moose Knuckles, Viktory Lapp, Full Deck and Stabby Road). A capable contingent of rookies and transfers (including Murdermom! who completes a rare mother-daughter duo) ensures that this should be another successful season for “The Dynasty.”

Chicks Ahoy! logo

Chicks Ahoy!

Total Regular Season Record: 16-13

Battle for the Boot Appearances: 5 (2007-’08, ‘10-’12)

Battle for the Boot Championships: 3 (2008, ’11, ’12)

ToRD’s second great team (though their regular season record is not much different from the Dolls’), the Chicks made five appearances in ToRD’s first six championship games, facing off against the Gores every single time and winning three Boots. Although featuring offensive superstars like Candy Crossbones (ToRD’s third all-time leading scorer) and Bala Reina (who had one of the most dominant seasons ever in 2012, becoming the only jammer to lead the league in every offensive category in a single season), the Chicks have actually been more known for their pack work, and their long line of dominant blockers and pivots speaks to that: Mach Wheels, Nasher the Smasher, Tara Part, Rebel Rock-It and Mega Bouche are just some of the historically great blockers who have taken the track for the Chicks.

Although success has been hard to come by for the Chicks since 2012, they may have built themselves back into contention. Led in the pack by veterans Biggley Smallz, Robber Blind, Rosemary’s Rabies, and off-season transfer Boxcar, the Chicks also feature the emerging leadership of Joss Wheelin’, Vag Lightning; however, the Chicks now have a potentially explosive offense as well. Anchored by Monster Muffin (who had a breakout year last year scoring 131 points), R2 Smack U and Wheels of Misfortune, the jammer rotation has been bolstered by the arrival of transfers Pink Slamminade and last year’s league leading scorer (with a record-tying 228 points) Sleeper Hold, who comes over from the Dolls. All indications point to a bounce back year for the Chicks.

Death Track Dolls Logo

Death Track Dolls

Total Regular Season Record: 15-14

Battle for the Boot Appearances: 2 (2013, ’14)

Battle for the Boot Championships: 2 (2013, ’14)

Although the Death Track Dolls have historically had success outside of ToRD (along with the Gores, they are the only ToRD team to record two podium finishes at the Beast of the East, for example), it wasn’t until 2013 that the Dolls were able to break through the stranglehold that the Gores and Chicks had held on the league (and this after missing the playoffs in 2012). That 2013 Dolls team was, arguably, the most dominant team in league history, setting a record for points per game (237, counting their record-setting Battle for the Boot score) and was the first team since the Gores in 2008 (who played two more games) to register two skaters with over 200 points in scoring for the season: Santilly In Yo Face and Rainbow Fight—whose records for points per jam (8) and lead percentage (88%) may never be touched. Despite big roster losses after that season, the Dolls continued to roll through ToRD in 2014 winning their second straight Boot in similarly dominant fashion, including setting a single season point differential record in the process (+468), a record that the Gores had held since 2008. While the Dolls managed one more solid regular season in 2015, retirements and roster shuffles finally caught up to the team, and they were defeated in the semi-finals.

The Dolls come back in 2016 as a team rebuilt, and it looks strong in the pack. While the team is being led by a core of next-generation Dolls, including co-captains Hannibelle and Robotomy, Getcha Kicks, and Block Québécois, the longest-serving Doll, Dawson (who begins her 8th season) has been rejoined by her long-time teammate Betty Bomber, who returns after a few years spent focusing on travel-team play followed by a brief retirement last year. Recent transfer Commander Will Wrecker bolsters the pack. While the pack depth has been rebuilt, the jammer rotation may still be a work in progress. Third-year Doll Devochka will lead a new offensive contingent this season that could include Bat Ma’am, Holly Rocket and Ellen Rage (with support from double threat Getcha Kicks).

Smoke City Betties Logo

Smoke City Betties

Total Regular Season Record: 9-20

Battle for the Boot Appearances: 3 (2009, ’13, ’15)

Battle for the Boot Championships: 1 (2015)

Last year, the oldest team in Canadian roller derby finally had its breakthrough. Although their three trips to the Battle for the Boot trails only the Gores and the Chicks in terms of appearances, the Betties won their first Boot last season, fittingly, against the Gores. Historically, it doesn’t get much deeper than the Betties in Canadian flat track. From 2006-2009 the first generation of flat track stars tore up the track, and jammer Jewel Kicker remains in ToRD’s Top 10 career scoring, one of only ten skaters in league history to record over 300 career points. She was part of the 2009 Betties team that became the first team other than the Gores or Chicks to Battle for the Boot (a team loaded with talent including Dyna Hurtcha, Memphis Kitty, Slaughter Lauder, Pretty Peeved and Demolition Dawn).

Last year’s season was one for the ages when after finishing third in the regular season, the Betties peaked at the right time romping through three rounds of playoffs to win the Boot (the first team to win three playoff games on route to the Boot). However, this year’s iteration of the team looks much different after considerable retirements and transfers following the championship win; interestingly though, the roster is bolstered by experienced transfers both from outside of the league (Booty Quake, Caume A Kazi) and within (Emmy Klimster, Extermiknitter) and the return of Mia Culprit to house league play. That being said, a strong core from last year’s champs does remain. Co-captains Lowblow Palooza and Anne Bulance, hard-hitting Brickhouse Bardot, triple-threat Honey Boom Boom , Jammer’head Shark, Fight of the Conchords, and long-serving Genuine Risk all return in the pack. One big loss is the jammer Smoka Cola (whose 183 points last season was the tenth highest total in league history), so while the rotation continues to be led by titmouse (the Betties’ all-time leading scorer) and could be bolstered by the return of Kil’Her At Large after a one-season absence, the team will need to develop its offense from within.

 Nerd Glasses

TORONTO ROLLER DERBY RECORDS AND STATS HISTORY

Gores Betties 09 Kevin

ToRD’s all-time leading scorer, Bambi, sneaks through on the inside as Gores’ pivot Brim Stone lines up Betties’ jammer Jewel Kicker in a 2009 regular season showdown. (Photo by Kevin Konnyu)

In honour of ToRD’s 10 season, take a look back at some of the league scoring records. One interesting thing to watch this season is ToRD’s career scoring numbers as three skaters in the Top 10 are still active. The Gores’ Lexi Con is set to become just the fourth skater in history to record 500 career points, while the Betties’ titmouse and Chicks’ Sleeper Hold should both advance up the Top 10 (and either could, with a strong season, join Lexi in the 500-point club).

ToRD Team Records

Points Per Game/Season: Dolls 237 (2013)

Highest Score/Game: Gores 323 vs. Chicks (2013)

Highest Score/Combined: 398 (Dolls 245 vs. Chicks 148 [2015])

Lowest Score/Game: Betties 22 vs. Chicks (2011)

Lowest Score/Combined: 129 (Betties 68 vs. Chicks 61 [2009])

Winning Streak (playoffs included): 12 Games (Gores 2009-2011)

Losing Streak (playoffs included): 10 games (Betties 2009-2012)

Individual Scoring Records

Career Points

Skater (Team) Career Points Years Played
*Bambi (GGR)

*Dust Bunny (GGR)

*Candy Crossbones (CA!)

Lexi Con (GGR)

Taranosaurus Rex (GGR)

*Lunchbox (GGR)

*Land Shark (DTD)

titmouse (SCB)

*Jewel Kicker (SCB)

Sleeper Hold (DTD)

*Desmond Deck (GGR)

986

896

640

479

392

373

372

354

344

326

304

2007-2012

2007-2012

2007-2012

2013-Present

2013-2015

2008-2010

2008-2011

2010-Present

2007-2009

2014-Present

2007-2008

Lead Percentage (Season)

Skater (Team) Lead % Year
Rainbow Fight (DDT)

Mach Wheels (CA!)

Bellefast (DTD)

Lunchbox (GGR)

Lexi Con (GGR)

Mach Wheels (CA!)

Dyna Hurtcha (CA!)

Dust Bunny (GGR)

Dust Bunny (GGR)

Candy Crossbones (CA!)

88%

78%

77%

76%

76%

75%

74%

72%

72%

70%

2013

2009

2014

2010

2013

2010

2011

2010

2011

2009

 Points Per Jam (Season)

Skater (Team) Points Per Jam Year
Rainbow Fight (DTD)

Sneaky Dee (CA!)

Candy Crossbones (CA!)

Lexi Con (GGR)

Sleeper Hold(DTD)

Santilly In Yo Face (DTD)

Bellefast (DTD)

Ice Pick (D-VAS)

Desmond Deck Her (GGR)

Bambi (GGR)

Bala Reina (CA!)

8.0

6.0

5.5

6.0

5.8

5.6

5.3

5.3

5.2

5.1

5.0

2013

2014

2007

2013

2015

2013

2014

2007

2007

2010

2012

Highest Points in a Single Season

Skater (Team) Total Points Year
*Bambi (GGR)

Lexi Con (GGR)

Sleeper Hold (DTD)

*Dust Bunny (GGR)

*Sista Fista (DTD)

Bala Reina (CA!)

Santilly In Yo Face (DTD)

Rainbow Fight (DTD)

Bambi (GGR)

Smoka Cola (SCB)

286

228

228

227

218

211

211

200

197

183

2008

2013

2015

2008

2008

2012

2013

2013

2010

2015

*The 2008 season consisted of five games per team. Every other season, three.

The All CAN-CON WFTDA D1 Playoff Preview

Canada's five entrants in this year's Division 1 playoffs represent the majority of the record-setting eleven international participants.

Canada’s five entrants in this year’s Division 1 playoffs represent the majority of the record-setting eleven international participants.

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.

Montreal and Tri-City prepare for the opening jam of last year's all-Canadian playoff showdown. (From WFTDA.TV)

Montreal and Tri-City prepare for the opening jam of last year’s all-Canadian playoff showdown. (From WFTDA.TV)

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).

Crazy Squirrel picks up lead jammer status in a May win against Queen City. (Photo by Joe Mac)

Crazy Squirrel picks up lead jammer status in a May win against Queen City. (Photo by Joe Mac)

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.

*Head over to Tournament Central for complete information and brackets.

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.

In 2014 the Vixens became the first non-US team to win a WFTDA playoff tournament. Click on the photo to read about it. (Photo by Joe Mac)

In 2014 the Vixens became the first non-US team to win a WFTDA playoff tournament. Click on the photo to read about it. (Photo by Joe Mac)

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.

*Head over to Tournament Central for complete information and brackets.

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).

Toronto managed some big victories early in the season, including a win over Boston. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Toronto managed some big victories early in the season, including a win over Boston at the Quad City Chaos. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

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 defeated Windy City, its quarterfinal opponent, 303-97 at ECDX this summer. (Photo by Joe Mac)

Montreal defeated Windy City, its quarterfinal opponent, 303-97 at ECDX this summer. (Photo by Joe Mac)

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

*Head over to Tournament Central for complete information and bracket.

*Won’t be heading to any of the playoff tournaments? Remember to tune in to WFTDA.TV. Also, read about WFTDA’s exciting new partnership with ESPN3 here.

Montreal and Toronto Kick Off Beast with Highly Anticipated WFTDA D1 Showdown

On April 24th, 2015, two of Canada’s top roller derby teams—Toronto’s CN Power and Montreal’s New Skids on the Block—will meet for the sixth time.

The Skids and CN Power first met at the 2010 Quad City Chaos. (Photo by Derek Lang)

Two distinct cities and two distinct leagues. A history apart, yet deeply interwoven.

The history of roller derby in this country runs through a few leagues in a few major cities: Vancouver, Edmonton, Hamilton, and, of course, Toronto and Montreal. And yet while roller derby has existed for virtually the same amount of time in both Toronto and Montreal, the paths they have taken through the game’s first decade in Canada couldn’t have been more different.

This will be the third consecutive year that CN Power and the Skids will kick off the Beast of the East.

This will be the third consecutive year that CN Power and the Skids will kick off the Beast of the East.

ToRD sits smack dab in the centre of the most active community of roller derby in the country, if not the world. You can’t go more than 50 kms in any direction and not run into a roller derby league of some size. And though leagues and numbers have fluctuated, there have been up to four leagues operating in the city of Toronto alone (and that’s not counting Durham in the GTA’s eastern end). And ToRD’s own remarkable history reflects this diversity and division.

Beginning, essentially, as a merger of a handful of teams that had sprouted up in the city in 2006, ToRD kicked off its first public season in 2007 as an unwieldy six-team house league: the biggest in the sport at the time. The focus was local, and in the midst of splits and new leagues, the focus was insular and then siloed within that closed community: so that the allegiances formed were to team, not necessarily league.

Montreal, on the other hand, has had a much more linear history, aided, in part, by the scarcity of surrounding leagues and influences. Even now 10 years later with provinces like Alberta, BC and Ontario bursting at the seams with leagues, Quebec remains slow in its embrace of the sport outside of Montreal.

In this isolation, the league began as a group of unified skaters, and Montreal Roller Derby grew as those skaters were parceled off into teams, eventually bringing together enough skaters for three teams to kick off their inaugural season in 2007.

Within a year of going public, both leagues had also formed travel teams, and that’s where the story goes in two different directions.

On Friday, April 24, CN Power and the New Skids on the Block will meet for the sixth time, with Montreal holding the dominant 5-0 edge coming into it. But where once a Montreal win would be guaranteed against any Canadian opponent, this time, Toronto comes in on relatively equal footing.

The Skids won narrowly, 233-216, at the 2014 Quad City Chaos. (Photography by Neil Gunner)

The Skids won narrowly, 233-216, at the 2014 Quad City Chaos. (Photography by Neil Gunner)

When the two teams first met in March 2010, Montreal was on the verge of distancing itself from the rest of the country. Early adopters of the pace strategies that would come to define the flat track game, the Skids also understood at a very early stage the importance of off-skates training and fitness as being key to the team’s success. Beginning in that 2010 season, Montreal went on a four-year run of dominance in this country, a run so dominant, that for many years, the Skids barely even bothered with Canadian competition. It wasn’t until 2013 when that began to change.

In the first two meetings between the rivals, the Skids won with an average differential of 224 points. Then, at the Beast of the East 2013, Toronto pulled noticeably closer, losing by 89 points. This kicked off a year in which the Toronto team would play its most competitive season, qualifying for the D1 playoffs for the first time. It was an organizational leap forward years in the making, as Toronto finally turned away from its internal focus to set its sights on the lofty heights of the WFTDA competitive game.

Then in March 2014, CN Power lost to the Skids narrowly on its home track by only 17 points. This remains the closest score that any Canadian team has come to the Skids in a regulation or sanctioned game. Thirteen months later, and the teams are arguably dead even.

Both rosters have gone through their share of changes since those early days of the rivalry, and this year there are new looks as well. Toronto has gone through a noticeable generational change, shifting out virtually its whole core jammer rotation while tweaking the pack. Montreal similarly has seen great change, with this season boasting seven new Skids on the roster. However, the strong organizational underpinnings in each of these leagues has allowed for a relatively seamless transition to these new generations of all stars.

Toronto has kicked off 2015 with a 3-0 record so far, while Montreal has been slightly quieter, winning its lone bout of the season. Interestingly, both teams have faced off against the Rideau Valley Vixens only weeks apart with remarkably similar results: Toronto won by 32, Montreal by 26, a difference that is statistically insignificant.

For perhaps the first time ever, on Friday, April 24, when Montreal and Toronto face off, it really is anybody’s game.

***CN Power and the New Skids on the Block face off at Arena St. Louis in Montreal on the 24th. Doors open at 6:00 PM with first whistle at 7:00 PM. Tickets are available online.

Bruisers Hold Off Brute-Leggers in a Another Nail Biter at the Bunker; D-VAS Debut with tough loss to Orangeville.

Bruisers pivot Monster Muffin works with Lucid Lou to contain Mangles the Clown. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Bruisers’ pivot Monster Muffin works with Lucid Lou to contain Annie Time. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

There is less than two minutes on the clock. It has been a ferocious bout, featuring six lead changes in total and no single leads greater than 21 points throughout. Two teams, virtually evenly matched have performed wonderfully: smart, tenacious, powerful and fast, they have provided the crowd with everything that a roller derby fan could want. And now it is coming down to one final jam.

The home team Bay Street Bruisers have managed to carve out a slight 157-150 lead over the visitors, the Brute-Leggers from Guelph’s Royal City Roller Girls. They’ve put Wolverina on the line; she’s been a steady and agile presence all game and is actually in the midst of a great season for her home team, the Smoke City Betties as well. A ToRD veteran (who began her career in New Zealand before transferring to Toronto in 2010), this is her first season on a travel team roster. Next to her on the jam line is Annie Time, a strong physical jammer who’s been powering her way through Bruisers’ walls all night.

Bruisers' jammer Wolverina is involved in a pile up with the Brute-Leggers' pack. (Photo by Joe Mac)

Bruisers’ jammer Wolverina is involved in a pile up with the Brute-Leggers’ pack. (Photo by Joe Mac)

The whistle blows and the jammers are off. Annie Time tries to take the inside on the Bruisers, but the line of Hannibelle, SewWhat?, Lucid Lou and Honey Boom Boom works her out of bounds and in the confusion off the start, draws a cut. Wolverina bursts through to pick up lead and begins to carve up the pack on the power jam, extending the lead to 20 points, the largest for the Bruisers all game, and the home team seems to have the game in hand. But the Brute-Leggers kick into frantic mode and both teams start to accumulate penalties at an alarming rate; it works and ‘Rina is eventually drawn into a penalty as the game clock expires and with time winding down, the visitors have one last desperate chance to get back into it. Rushing out of the box, Annie Time picks up 5, and a flurry of penalty calls leaves only Lucid Lou on the track for the Bruisers. She turns to square herself to the advancing ‘Leggers’ jammer and gets plowed over, falling awkwardly. She stays down and the referees whistle the jam dead. There is 35 seconds left on the jam clock, but the game is over. An anti-climactic finish to a thrilling game.

It was an important first game of the seasons for both teams who will have very different paths this year. Royal City is the most recent Canadian league to get elevated to full WFTDA status and next month the Brute-Leggers begin their WFTDA odyssey with their first sanctioned games (against Hellions of Troy and Albany) on their way to their initial ranking, and, hopefully, a quick run up the standings into Division 2 play. And they seem to have the team to do it. An experienced bench (Professor Wrex and veteran announcer Captain Lou El Bammo) leads a solidly built roster, anchored by an excellent jammer rotation of Mangles the Clown, Stefi Spitfire and Annie Time (a revelation in this game, who just began skating in 2013), along with Tri-City transfer Praying Man Tease, who was phenomenal with both the star and the stripe in the bout, and seems to be the key to this team’s success in 2015. But they also have a smart pack, led by the intelligent offensive play of Olivia Nuke ‘Em Bomb, and the hard-hitting Built Ford Rough, but filled out by Rugburn (who has made a fantastic transition into the pack) and Tragic Pyro-ny as well.

Brute-Leggers' pivot Built Ford Rough works with Olivia Nuke'em Bomb to contain Devochka. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Brute-Leggers’ pivot Built Ford Rough works with Olivia Nuke’em Bomb to contain Devochka. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

This game proved a good start for the Brute-Leggers who managed to work out some kinks over the course of the game, and improved as time wore on. Right out of the gates, they seemed to be a step or two behind their Toronto counterparts who were also debuting a new, largely rebuilt roster of their own, that did feature some Bay Street stalwarts such as Tushy Galore and Robber Blind, but also a new generation of on-track leaders, as well as a new bench coach in former D-VAS bench boss Toque ‘n’ Ale. Lucid Lou made a successful return to ToRD on Saturday (she seemed ok after the game and was walking on her own), while Hannibelle and SewWhat? were keys in the pack and having experienced jammers Lexi Con and Monster Muffin donning the stripes is a massive advantage for the team who ran their offense through the aforementioned Wolverina, Devochka, the wily Beaver Mansbridge and co-captain Sleeper Hold, who was a clutch performer all night and finished the game with 54 points on a 75% lead percentage (Wolverina was second in scoring with 47 points, while Beaver notched a 58% lead percentage; and after a rough first half, Devochka came through after the break with 19 points in the second).

The Bruisers, playing some great lock-down defense, managed leads of 34-25 at the ten-minute mark and 39-33 at the midway point of the first half before the Brute-Leggers managed to tie it up with seven minutes to go and eventually Annie Time blew open the game with a 19-point jam to close out the first period and give the ‘Leggers the 82-61 halftime lead.

Royal City managed to hold onto the lead until the midway point of the second (up 120-118) before the teams began to trade lead off almost by the minute, setting up that thrilling final jam.

D-VAS' FirecrackHer goes in for the hit on Orangeville's Betty Bad Touch. (Photo by Joe Mac)

D-VAS’ FirecrackHer goes in for the hit on Orangeville’s Betty Bad Touch. (Photo by Joe Mac)

It was the third week in a row that Toronto Roller Derby has delivered, featuring games with point differentials of 5, 7, and now 15 points, fans have been treated to some fine roller derby and some thrilling games to kick off the 2015 season.

And speaking of kicking off the 2015 season, this year’s D-VAS, Toronto Roller Derby’s farm team, also took to the track for the first time in 2015 on Saturday night with the freshest roster the team has seen in years. With a limited number of transfers, this year’s team will undoubtedly suffer a lot of growing pains, but they’ve got a long way to go before next fall’s entry draft and ample time to fine-tune.

On Saturday, they began the season with a tough loss to a vastly more experienced Orangeville Roller Girls Fox Force Five team featuring members of its WFTDA-apprentice-level travel team. Anchored by a trio of veterans including blockers Francesca Fiure and Gigawatts and jammer Battering Ma’am, they had no answer for the likes of Orangeville jammers K-Smax, Pink Slamminade, Lil-Maehem and Betty Bad Touch, and were dominated in the pack by Boot E, Mercy D. Nide, Eleanor Rigamortis and Goodbye Kitty among others.

Diebrarian, Leggs Benedict (pivot) and Francesca Fiure work to contain Lil-Maehem. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Diebrarian, Leggs Benedict (pivot) and Francesca Fiure work to contain Lil-Maehem. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

But the future looks bright for the D-VAS who got some impressive performances from Wreck’n’ RollHer and Diebrarian in the pack and Ellen Rage and Noodle Kaboodle on the jam line. Losses seem to sting less for the D-VAS whose chief goal is to learn and develop as skaters, and there was much to be learned in the 411-87 loss. They’ll get a chance to put this new-found knowledge to the test in two weeks time when they host Woodstock on the 21st.

***Next up for Toronto Roller Derby is a double header on February 21st featuring the D-VAS hosting Woodstock Roller Derby, and a ToRD house league regular season matchup featuring the first-place Gore-Gore Rollergirls (2-0) and the last place Chicks Ahoy! (0-2). Tickets are on sale now.

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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