By Thomas Gerbasi
How appropriate is it that it has come down to this? Brooklyn. Manhattan. Golden Skate trophy.
Yes, the Bombshells and Mayhem have proven themselves to be the elite in the 2016 Gotham Girls Roller Derby league home season, but when the blue and orange collide, it’s always more than just a game, even if this one will determine a champion.
If anyone has seen them play each other, they’ll know precisely what this means, but for a more nuts and bolts explanation, the proof is in the numbers.
2013 – Brooklyn 178, Manhattan 171
2014 – Manhattan 170, Brooklyn 169
2015 – Brooklyn 153, Manhattan 148
2016 – Brooklyn 161, Manhattan 158
Forget the 3-1 Brooklyn advantage. Look at the scores. Four games decided by a grand total of 16 points. In modern derby, a single game decided by 16 points is a close, back and forth bout. Four games determined by that total is unlike anything ever seen in GGRD.
So what’s the secret?
“On a certain level, I wish I knew,” laughs Manhattan co-captain Roxy Dallas. “I hesitate to call it chemistry, but there’s a real sort of agro-magic that comes out on the track when we meet each other. And that’s true in our private scrimmages as well. That’s not just something that comes out on game day. If I had to guess, I would say that it had less to do with the actual strategy or technical skill on the track and even more to do with the team cultures. The way that we operate culturally as squads off the track really contributes to the way we end up playing on the track.”
Suffice to say that both teams bring a high-level of hard-hitting intensity to the track, and it’s almost as if each team could accept a loss, as long as it wasn’t to each other. It makes picking a winner in this Saturday’s championship bout at John Jay College in NYC impossible, which speaks to the quality of the matchup, because those looking at the bout on paper would have to lean toward the defending champion Bombshells.
Unbeaten in 2016, Brooklyn hasn’t lost a bout since Manhattan edged them out in July of 2014. That’s a lot of success in the last two-plus years, and as the weekend approaches, the Bombshells are on the verge of history, as they have the opportunity to become the first team since the 2009-10 Bronx Gridlock to repeat as champions. It’s been a long drought of dominance, but Brooklyn captain Evilicious has a theory.
“We have so few games, and our drafts are so steeped in math that our teams are more evenly matched than ever before,” she said. “We’ve eliminated all of the variables that left one or two teams unbalanced as compared to the other teams. There are obviously the rebuilding years and someone who you draft on to your team early in the season is going to contribute differently than someone who has skated on the team for a decade or close to it. But because of how serious we are about the math behind who has the ability to draft someone, the teams are so evenly matched that you can’t bank on any one team winning any game, even if they have a perfect record. So I don’t think it’s a mental thing; that’s just the nature of the cycle of what we’re going through in Gotham. I would love for the Bombshells to change that on Saturday.”
And Manhattan would like to keep the parity status quo, at least until they attempt their own history in 2017 should they win on Saturday. So at the moment, Roxy enjoys the “any given night” nature of the league.
“I think that this trend that no one stays on top too long is so awesome,” she said. “I really love it, not from a Mayhem perspective, but from a league perspective it just shows how much insane talent we have and how much talent is joining the league and working up through the ranks. As much as I’d like to spoil it for our own personal gain, I think that the turnover for the Golden Skate is saying really good things about our training.”
That training for the home team season begins early in the year, continues through the spring and summer, and culminates in one game for all the marbles. For a long time, Brooklyn and Manhattan watched as the Bronx and Queens traded championships back and forth. But in the last few years, there has been a changing of the guard of sorts, with no transformation more miraculous than that of the Bombshells, who went from the oft-noted lovable underdogs to dominant champions. Evilicious is fine with the team keeping the lovable part of the equation, but as far as being underdogs, the veteran blocker can’t even fathom those days ever returning.
“I think we’re a completely different team than that,” she said. “Our maturity as a group of skaters and the hours that we’ve put in together have really changed us. It’s kind of lore now. Queens and Bronx used to be the only teams that won championships, and that was individual talent, great management and years of experience together. Those teams were the teams that had that core anchor that helped propel them to championships. Manhattan and Brooklyn were scrappier and we weren’t able to rack up the wins with the consistency that they were. But it’s equalized throughout the league and so we’re unrecognizable from the Bombshells of five years ago, for sure.”
Of course, having said all that, now Brooklyn or Manhattan will win by a hundred points this weekend. Nah, not likely. Especially not with these two squads. And whether the victor walks away with a win by 10 or a hundred points, both teams will know they’ve been in a war.
“It’s not possible to get out of a game unscathed, no matter who you’re playing, especially Manhattan, because they have such strength, and that leads to really strong offense, which is how the blockers get beat up,” Evilicious explains. “The jammers generally get beat up no matter what. That lends itself to a really taxing game, even if the audience can’t tell. So even with a hundred point spread, I think you do need triple digits before anyone can relax, because anything under that is a couple of jammer penalties, and as everyone’s seen this season with all our teams, you can rack up 30 points in a jam and your lead is a distant memory. So unless we can to a three-digit differential, which we haven’t see this year, no one’s gonna relax and everything is going to feel like a fight in every jam.”
That’s what derby fans want to see and hear. Now all that’s left is for Brooklyn and Manhattan to play for the championship. Not just of the league, but of each other.
Tickets for tomorrow available here.