Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Preview for Dead of Winter

It's said that the third week in January is the single-most depressing week in the year. Certainly true in Minnesota. The cold is mighty. The sun is nowhere to be seen. Everyone's sick. We all know there's a long, horrid slog to spring. Life sucks.

The Minnesota RollerGirls are ready to help you hold off the blues this Saturday. We return to the Roy Wilkins Auditorium...and it's time for the big dance. The undefeated Dagger Dolls have only to win one more before they complete their transformation from last year's cellar dwellers to MNRG champions. Between them and the Golden Skate stands the Rockits, ready to rush to the front and crush the Dolls beneath their wheels.

Meanwhile, the Atomic Bombshells and the Garda Belts will also be in play as they attempt to escape last place. The Bombshells and Gardas will be playing for third and for bragging rights as they enter the next part of the season.

We saw both matchups at November's bout...but we are not likely to see either play out in the same way. Let's get you ready for Saturday. Here's what you should know.

Third-place match: the Atomic Bombshells vs the Garda Belts

In November, the Bombshells defeated the Gardas 77-43. The key to that 34-point victory was that the women in orange largely kept the Garda blockers away from their jammers. Bombshells took lead jam by a margin of almost two-to-one. When the four principal Bombshell jammers didn't get the lead, they got to the front quickly enough that Garda scorers could only lap the pack once before being forced to call off the jam.

The blocker lineup for both teams is very similar. Only Chinese Takeout and Madame de Stompadour will be missing from the Bombshell lineup since the previous bout. No new Garda blockers are believed to be out of the picture. Now, the Garda jammers are another matter. Suzie Smashbox will not be skating. In the sort of freak accident that has plagued the Garda Belts for years, Suzie tried to help at a New Year's road accident and got hurt herself.

The new element for the Gardas is the arrival of MEDUSA (yes, that's how it's written) to the MNRG.  The veteran North Star Roller Girl got drafted by the Gardas at the end of last year. Perhaps not a moment too soon; she's one of the upper Midwest's most agile jammers, so it's likely that MEDUSA will likely step into Suzie's position as a principal jammer, sharing that role with Cassie Rolle, Moto Fluzzi, and Sintripetal Force.

However, Garda captains Anita Spankston and Citizen Pain might decide to bring her into the pack to extend their defensive threat.  That'd place another experienced blocker into the mix alongside established green thugs like Shiva Shank'n, Citizen, Anita, and Rumblebee. Against the Atomic Bombshells scoring linuep, the Gardas must play defensively and work to keep them from breaking through the pack.

Mind, you it'll be difficult for the Gardas to match the Bombshell's pack. The top four blockers of the November match in terms of stopping opposing jammers were all Bombshells. Diamond Rough, Tara Skatesov, Skullateral Damage, and L'exi-cuter executed superbly, and the Bombshell pack overall allowed only Suzie Smashbox to score more than two lead jams in the November bout. With a similar ABS pack in play for the third-place bout, the Gardas should be planning how to get past the Bombshells. They'll particularly need to work out taking down Skully, Tara, and Diamond, each of whom play every other jam.

The Championship: Dagger Dolls vs the Rockits.

We saw this matchup as well in November. The Dolls won that one and gave the Rockits the worst pasting that the Red Menace has gotten for years (87-43). It's time for the rematch.

The Dagger Dolls' November win came largely from inspired defensive play (how else do you keep the Rockits scoring less than 50?) mixed in with a solid handful of Dolly jammers who can keep on scoring. They then went and held the Atomic Bombshells to seven points in the first half of their December match. The Dolls come into Saturday's bout after playing in a full sixty-minute tune-up match against Juke Boxx's former Mad Rollin' Dolls hometeam last weekend. They took on and defeated Madison's Vaudeville Vixens by almost a hundred points. Every Dagger Doll feels ready to hold the Golden Skate high.

But so are the Rockits. After their 44-point loss, the Rockits defeated the Gardas by over one hundred points...and then headed north to take on Fargo/Morehead's travel team the following week. Whupped them 211-17. One other important note before we get into it; the Rockits have also gained two more players since that November bout. The first is Vuedoo Prodigy, the 2010 MNRG overall MVP. Vue was out with an ankle injury incurred at the WFTDA Championship tournament, so the Rockits were short one monster rear defender. The other? Last year's #1 lead scorer, Harmony Killerbruise. Harmony had just moved back from the West Coast after a six-month stint with the 2009 WFTDA champion Oly Rollers. She wasn't yet eligible to play. It's January, and both are ready to hit the track on Saturday.

Their presence will be good for this match. For a team to succeed at the level of MNRG's championship, you need several players all skating at the top of their game to win, not just a singular talent.

The Dolls have a defensive bench that is filled with players familiar with the sport and who have played at flat-track derby's high levels. The Rockits were short some of those players in November with the loss of Abbie Mischief to injury as well as Vuedoo, and their play suffered.  The most veteran players don't just hit the opposing team; they create anchors that less-experienced teammates can coalesce around in the pack and work from. They're - for a lack of a better word - glue that knits the pack into a cohesive unit each jam.

In the case of Vue and Harmony, their entrance into the championship bout strengthens their side and solidifies each jam. There's more experience every time the team lines up. It also gives the Rockits more options. With Harmony's arrival, a blocker able to jam (such as Scarmen Hellectra or Killahertz) can comfortably work as a defender without being worried that their team can't score enough to win. With Vue once again ready to defend the rear aside Honeydew Felon, the Rockits can return more mature players to the front of the pack where they can delay the onslaught of Dolly jammers.

Here's the problem: the Dolls are extraordinary this year. Years of Candi Pain (Dagger Doll captain for many years) drafting towards fast players has given the Dolls a bit of a speed advantage at the jammer line. Co-captain Psycho Novia and Killaman Jaro scream forward into the pack as Dolly scorers, and new transfers Angelfire and Juke Boxx are every bit their equal.

The Rockits must find ways to stop their sprints to the front. One of the Rockits' likely courses of action is to run woman-on-woman defense against the Dolly rear blockers.  The idea would be to stop the players that assist their jammers. However, the Dolly pack seems so strong that any two or three of the blockers might be able to take that position.

The Rockit jammers aren't precisely pushovers either. Scarmen Hellectra took the lead over 70% of the time she wore the jammer star against the Dolls. Commander Nix and Frau Scientits weren't far behind in this regard. Add Harmony in as another primary jammer, and the Rockit scoring could look as brutally businesslike as in years past on Saturday.

However, you must give the Dolls the nod as favorites for Saturday's bout.  They've scored almost 40% of all points between the four teams this season. The blocker leaderboards glow pink with veteran Dagger Doll danger. They've been so good at keeping opposing jammers from scoring by working together that the excellence of one players bleeds into another's play. On one leaderboard, you have to get past nine Dagger Dolls before you get to a player from a different team. Whether it's Shiver Me Kimbers, Norah Torious, or Olga Oglethorpe, the excellence just goes on. Finally, it's worth noting Juke, Naughty Kitty, and Tiki Torture's ability to send opponents out of bounds and to the back of the pack. They kill jammer sprints and destroy defensive formations when they pull this stunt, and they use it constantly. Best of all? They're having fun doing it.

So. A great third-place match. A championship bout that could go either way. We want you there to see either the Dolls or the Rockits raise the Golden Skate on Saturday. Access to floor-level ticket is drying up quickly, but you should be able to buy seats for the balcony at the Roy box office on game day. If you do so, bring a children's book for a discount. We're collecting for the Minnesota Reading Corps, and you'll get $2 off the price of admission.

As for the afterparty? We're going to O'Gara's for hob-nobbin', PBR, and karaoke...and an awful lot of celebrating. See you there.

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