Montreal Roller Derby Is Jammin’!
by Bonnie Wurst – Montreal Times
Photos Compliments of MTLRD (except where specified)
Montreal Roller Derby is alive and JAMMIN’! Are you aware that our fair city has been home to the best roller derby league in Canada since 2006 – the Montreal Roller Derby League (MTLRD)? Not only is it as exciting and hard hitting as it used to be – it’s even better. Today the players are not just dedicated athletes – they train hard and they play hard. And these women are not acting like they quite often did back in the 70’s with teams like the San Francisco Bay Rollers and players like ‘Skinny Minnie Miller’. Nor are they using maneuvers like the ‘whip’ anymore – they’re playing professional roller derby.
Roller derby is now played on an oval shaped track on a flat surface made of cement, wood or masonite, unlike the banked track the game was played on back then. At the game I attended on April 25th at the Arena St-Louis, the track was laid out over cement. Coming face to face with a concrete floor after a hit isn’t for the weak of heart.
However, the quad skates and the wild crowds are still here. And with names of players like ‘Hot Cross Guns’, ‘Cheese Grater’, ‘Slavic Slayer’, ‘Trash N’ Smash’ and ‘Bone Machine’, it’s not hard to imagine the ambiance surrounding the whole event. And it’s a heck of a lot of fun.
I was there to watch Montreal’s ‘NEW SKIDS ON THE BLOCK’ take on Toronto’s ‘CN POWER’. A big rivalry exists between the two teams (sound familiar?) but at the end of the game the scoreboard said it all – Montreal 218, Toronto 155.
The Skids and CN Power are ‘elite’ teams who represent their leagues at the WFTDA’s (Women’s Flat Track Derby Association) internationally sanctioned bouts. Most of these bouts are in the USA and Europe, where the Skids are quite popular. The MTLRD league is composed of three home teams that go head-to-head all summer long, two all-star teams (A and B) that go up against high-caliber teams mostly in the USA, a development team, and the international travel team New Skids on the Block.
Fans filled the arena to capacity, and if you thought only Habs fans could make noise – think again. Music rocked the place while the teams had turns warming up. Beer was flowing, concession stands were open and there was electricity in the air that was just about to explode – when ‘Plastik Patrik’, announcer for MTLRD since 2006, stepped into the middle of the track to signal the countdown to the start of the game. An iconic figure in Montreal, Plastik Patrik also takes care of PR for the league and outside of that also leads a glam-punk rock band. He is adored by fans and players alike – and he looked absolutely marvelous and in complete command of his high heels.
Then four Blockers and one Jammer from each team (10 in all) took to the track. The reason you see so many referees around the track is because players have to be watched diligently, they can only use their shoulders, hips and torso to make contact and hit only above the thighs and below the neck. Penalties play a big part in the game and major calls can be a serious game changer.
The players are wearing only basic protective gear; a helmet, elbow pads, wrist protectors, knee pads and a mouth guard. Other than that, they are open to all the bumps and bruises that come with the game. The quad skates are the same style as the short-booted roller skates many are familiar with – except for the wheel construction underneath which is far more advanced.
After the game I asked ‘Demanda Lashing’, a blocker for the Skids if it’s like skating with roller blades and she quickly replied that they weren’t at all. In fact, she explained, the quad skates are far more akin to ice skates, the feel and maneuver used on the cement track is much closer to the feeling of hockey skates on ice. And watching her spin those wheels around the track I could almost see the spray of ice following her. Although Demanda has 12 years previous experience in synchronized figure skating, making the transition to the quads easier for her, she said it is not necessary to be a professional skater to learn how to roll the wheels of the derby.
Cracker Jass, who is a blocker for Les Filles du Roi and has been playing for three years, said she never roller skated before joining the league, but very quickly became adept at it – with a little hard work and commitment.
And Demanda’s advice to younger girls who want to get into roller derby: “Get on skates whenever you can, get involved with the league, volunteer…”
I also got to meet ‘Georgia W. Tush’ founder of MTLRD and then spoke with ‘Smack Daddy’, a well-versed athlete, mother of a young baby – and one monster of a Blocker on the track.
I asked her how she got into roller derby and she had this to say:
“I actually kind of came in from the backdoor… I found out about roller derby as a cultural event, I first came as a fan, I knew some friends who were playing and ended up deejaying a few games… then after a few times I got convinced and joined in! I’d been an athlete my whole life… I was at Concordia and had finished playing soccer at the University level and after that… well, for women there really wasn’t much out there at a competitive level, not like the guys have – so for me it was a way to kind of combine the night life aspect, the culture, the really diverse community… that’s #1 in terms of my love for roller derby… complimenting my love for sports and my athleticism. I was training a lot and kind of had no purpose after University, so this was a way to get back into a more competitive training… and now I can’t stop!”
This is Smack Daddy’s 6th season with the league. During her 4th season she broke her tibia and fibula and has 13 pins in her leg, but after 5 months of rehab she was back in the game. She will probably retire after this season, having a four month old baby at home. The game has been a big part of her life, she met her wife through roller derby and last year when they decided to have a baby they actually planned the process (IVF) according to the roller derby schedule! Their baby arrived in the off season.
Now that’s what I call dedication. On and off the track.
Smack Daddy says the game is more similar to football – it’s like ‘playing chess on skates’. And because of the multidisciplinary nature of roller derby, she trains with a UFC coach.
“You’ve got to kick some ass… you’ve got to get your game on!” were Smack’s words of wisdom.
And ‘kick ass’ they did to Toronto. If you’re looking for a night filled with action or a nostalgic visit back, I highly recommend you check out a game of Roller Derby.
Oh, and bring your ‘kick ass’ attitude with you.
For more information about the league, teams and players – or to learn how the game is played, rules and regulations, schedules and events, please visit their website at mtlrollerderby.com