After securing a ride to the Greyhound station for early Saturday morning, I hurriedly tried to pack and get to bed, knowing that I would not sleep much in the next day and a half. My plan was: ride to Toledo Greyhound station, bus to downtown Cincy station, two Metro buses to the Gardens, one CRG doubleheader, two Metro buses back to the Cincy Greyhound station, sit there for 8 hours, bus back to downtown Toledo, paratransit bus to roughly three blocks from the rehab center, and wheel myself back, all in the span of roughly 30 hours. I was impressed with my planning skills, but exhausted just thinking about it.
A ticketing snafu with Greyhound threatened to derail the whole adventure, but we somehow managed to get it resolved. As the lift pulled my wheelchair onto the bus, I thanked Owen for the ride and settled in with the bus people. With the exception of a Soup-Nazi-esque bus driver and a couple of trashy folks a couple of rows behind me, it was a smooth ride. I played music on my phone and watched the lush, rolling nothingness of Western Ohio roll by. As I got close to Dayton, I received a very welcome surprise via Facebook message: referee Dr. Funkenstein would pick me up in downtown Cincy, sparing me at least two more bus rides. He and his daughter were waiting for me as the bus pulled in, and I was whisked off to the Gardens like a bigwig. Of course, this meant that I arrived roughly four hours before the doors opened to the public. No worries, as I found an outlet in the hall to charge my phone and began to read. If there's one thing I've learned in the nearly five months since I've slept in my own bed, it's how to kill time.
Once again, the fine CRG folks stepped in to make my life easier. Bout production guru Squintz spotted me in the empty hallway and invited me into the main arena. I accepted and wheeled myself to my very familiar spot in row 1, turn 3. It was a bit eerie to be there that early, with maybe ten other people doing some set-up work around me. It was really nice to chat with people as they entered, without the rushed feeling of trying to squeeze in a few words during warm-ups. As the hours ticked away, I read my book and got my scorebook ready for the night's action, pausing every so often to enjoy the company of another skater, ref, or NSO. As the doors were finally opened, I made my way to the concession stand for my traditional Gardens meal of bratwurst and a hot pretzel.
As the familiar scene of pre-bout warm-ups took place, the wonderful Buckhead Betty greeted me with a program and the CRG stadium cup given to the first 2,000 fans on the annual "Fan Appreciation Night." The excitement grew, and I made my ritual perusal of the rosters for both games. The long-awaited introductions of the B-teams began, and a smaller-than-average crowd gave the home team skaters a rousing cheer. As everyone stood and faced the flags, we were treated to one of my favorite sports moments, the double-anthem. Unfortunately, a recorded version of "O, Canada" was used. Then, a gentleman came out and sang... something. I think it was meant to be "The Star-Spangled Banner," but the guy thought he was on American I-Dull or something and tried to do something weird with it. I think I saw Roseanne Barr walk out in disgust. Seriously, folks, just sing the anthem respectfully.
STANDARD DISCLAIMER: This post reflects the observations of one fan. All descriptions and statistics guaranteed accurate, or your money back.
CRG VIOLENT LAMBS vs. TRI-CITY (KITCHENER, ONTARIO) PLAN B
The opening act for the evening had all the looks of a blowout. As the Tri-City (TCRG) B team took the track, it looked disorganized and wide-eyed. Although I knew little about this league, watching warm-ups made it clear that they would not be able to keep it close against the Lambs. The very first jam of the contest was emblematic of the entire game. Tri-City jammer Psykosonic had her first rough spot in an evening full of them, being sent off on a track cut less than 30 seconds in. CRG's Ruthless Chris took advantage of the power jam and the Canadians' utter lack of awareness in the pack to post the first 25 points of the bout. A jammer penalty on CRG's Bombtrack gave her fellow #12, Smashing Booty, a chance to strike back. The Cincinnati penalty killers, led by the excellent front two-wall of Big Ugly and Cincy Psych-o, limited the damage to a mere nine points. Hot Slice took the star next for CRG, showing off some sweet jukes in a wide-open jam. Both Susie Shinsplintski and Mirderher dished out treats to the fans sitting in turn four, obliterating Psykosonic two laps apart, but the Tri-City jammer still managed to put up 12 points to Hot Slice's 20.
The next two jams had little effect on the score, with TCRG's Slaughterhouse Streeter parlaying a sweet juke on Roxx Solid into a modest 1-0 win and Ruthless Chris letting a 3-0 advantage become a 3-3 stalemate, thanks to a late call. Over the next two jams, however, the Lambs took command. This started off well for Tri-City, as Aggrosaurus (on furlough from the Cincinnati Museum Center's new dinosaur exhibit) drilled CRG jammer I Caramba. Shortly thereafter, however, Psykosonic took another trip to the box. A superlative Cincinnati pack (Railroad, Big Ugly, Annie Tomical, and Mirderher) trapped Tri-City blocker Ann Killbiter, giving I Caramba free reign to score. Caramba was aided by a beautiful assist from Railroad in turn three and posted a 23-4 jam. The slick pack play continued on the next jam, with Bombtrack leading teammates Cherry Choke, Susie Shinsplintski, and Roxx Solid in a swarming, recycling maelstrom. By the time TCRG's Smashing Booty finally emerged from the pack, her head was down, and she could barely put one skate in front of the other. A 16-0 jam win put CRG's lead at 59 with 16 minutes remaining in the first half.
Tri-City showed some signs of life, but were able to tally a mere 3-0 result on two consecutive lead jammer calls. Bombtrack ended that trend with a quick and powerful dash down the inside, on her way to lead jammer status and a 99-35 CRG lead. Ruthless Chris's jammer penalty on a high block gave Tri-City parts of two jams on the advantage. While the plucky Canucks put together a total of 15 points, a solid penalty kill by Roxx Solid, I Caramba, and Cherry Choke kept it from being worse. Bombtrack one again stepped up to halt Tri-City's momentum, taking lead jammer in an ultra-micro pack (1 CRG blocker vs. 2 for Tri-City). Bombtrack looked amazing, putting a Walter Payton-like stutter-step on the helpless Tri-City blockers near the jammer line en route to a 25-16 jam. Tri-City were able to keep the margin near 50 over the next few jams, despite some excellent work by CRG blockers. The highlight of this span was a stellar one-on-one block by Garden of Beatin. Skating backwards at the front of the pack, she stymied the TCRG blocker for a full third of the track. In the final two jams of the half, the Lambs again asserted control. First, Annie Tomical led a stout CRG pack (Susie Shins, Hot Slice, Cincy Psych-o) with a massive jammer take-out just before turn three. Then, Ruthless Chris showed off her outstanding strength and balance on the half's final jam, sending the Lambs to the locker room with a 154-75 lead.
The second half started off with some sloppy play by the home team. For the second time in the game, Ruthless Chris waited too long to call the jam, turning an advantage into a 3-2 win by the opponent. In the second jam, Big Ugly had a nice hit to force the Tri-City jammer out, but she missed the opportunity to skate back and force the jammer father behind the pack. This was a consistent problem for Lambs blockers, who will need to be much more effective in setting up waterfalls against the good opponents coming up on their schedule. After a few uneventful jams, new Lambs jammer Tru D. Vicious showed nice speed and awareness, grabbing three points and calling off the jam before her counterpart could score.
Once again, things went Cincinnati's way when Bombtrack took the star. She blasted through a two-wall at the front for lead jammer, her power matched only by her fiery disposition. Psykosonic tried to keep up, but Hot Slice did a masterful job, directing her fellow blocker Cincy Psych-o to seal the inside and win the psychobattle. Bombtrack capped off a 19-0 jam, and the Tri-City jammer looked beleaguered yet again. Twelve minute into the second period, the Lambs had extended their lead to 203-83.
The next eleven minutes were all about the CRG defense. First, the Tri-City jammer had a 3/4-lap lead on her CRG counterpart, but Mirderher, Cherry Choke, and Susie Shinsplintski completely shut her down, forcing her to call the jam to a scoreless finale. Then, it was time for the CRG penalty kill. A Hot Slice jammer penalty put the Cincinati blockers to the test, and they came through. Railroad and Poppy Chulo held tightly, and Psykosonic dragged herself through for a single grand slam. With Tri-City starting the next turn on the power jam, the Lambs' pack stepped up again, forcing a rare 0-0 against the Canadian solo jammer. Two of the next three jams resulted in Cincinnati power jams, with both Tru D. Vicious and Bombtrack piling on the points. By the time Mirderher sent a Tri-City jammer crashing out of bounds at the 7-minute mark, CRG had capped a 76-6 run, effectively ending the game. CRG coach Quad Almighty treated the home fans to a rare Mirderher jam, which ended 10-0 in her favor. With the game out of hand, Bombtrack stepped to the jammer line one final time, punctuating her brilliant performance with a jam so one-sided that I lost track at 30 points. The Violent Lambs finished an undefeated home season with a 332-97 shellacking of Tri-City Plan B.
As you may have guessed by reading this far, it was an easy call for Violent Lambs MVP. Bombtrack was dominant, both as a jammer and as a blocker. Wearing the star, she showed off the total package, delivering one of the finest all-around jamming performances I have seen in six years of watching CRG. You want power? She busted through two-walls like Lindsay Lohan through a gram of coke. You want speed? Hers was unparalleled. You want moves? Barry Sanders looked on in awe. Of course, Bombtrack was effective in the pack as well. Her mental sharpness was evident in her ability to direct her fellow blockers, keeping the pack cohesive and relentless. Beyond that, she was the only Lambs skater who made the effort to consistently race to the back after sending an opponent out of bounds.
Dramatic re-enactment of Bombtrack's performance
While the play was generally sloppier than I'd like to see, many of the other CRG blockers turned in fine performances. Mirderher was at her punishing best, constantly hitting the Tri-City jammers and offering some very nice offensive blocks as well. Toledo's own Susie Shinsplintski returned to the Lambs with an excellent performance. She was a part of many of the most effective CRG packs, dishing out some juicy hits of her own. Cincy Psych-o continued to impress in her first season with the Lambs, doing a very nice job at the front of the pack. Garden of Beatin made the case for more track time, showing excellent footwork and a knack for quickly sealing off any lanes that developed for the Tri-City jammers. Annie Tomical showed excellent track awareness and power that belies her size. Big Ugly and Railroad continued to push for a chance to play with the Black Sheep.
The Lambs generally employed a four-jammer rotation. Ruthless Chris joined Bombtrack in taking the greatest share of turns with the star. While she was effective, this was the first time this season that she was not dominant. A few mental lapses in calling jams too late were very uncharacteristic. Hot Slice continued to work her way back from an early-season injury, showing improved speed and some nifty moves. She also played some solid jams as a blocker. Tru D. Vicious showed nice athleticism in her Gardens debut. I Caramba chipped in with a few jams, showing some nice power and balance. Cameo appearances with the star went to Railroad and Mirderher, and the fans went wild as usual for the "Ugly Jam."
On the Tri-City side, all of the jammers had considerable difficulty. Smashing Booty had moderate success, but she had the misfortune of being matched against Bombtrack on many occasions. Psykosonic took the most jams for Plan B, and she probably wishes she hadn't. She was beaten to a pulp, harassed into taking penalties, and generally put through the wringer by the CRG packs. Slaughterhouse Streeter is strong and quick, but she did a poor job playing under control and yielded some big jams for CRG. In terms of blockers, Aggrosaurus was by far the best. I also noticed some good work by Meow Wallace. Overall, however, the Tri-City packs were disorganized, and the blockers allowed plenty of easy passes. Special mention goes to Amy Feral Foul-her for having one of the best derby names I've seen.
CRG BLACK SHEEP vs. TRI-CITY THUNDER
After a brief intermission, it was time for the A-teams to clash. The homestanding Black Sheep (WFTDA ranked #34) were looking to dispatch the Thunder (#56) and complete an unblemished home season. Riding an 8-game winning streak and looking to improve their playoff seeding just weeks before the June 30 deadline, the Sheep would suffer dearly from a loss. The introductions featured the Tri-City team skating together holding shark fins and Sadistic Sadie holding a sign proclaiming in lights the league's appreciation of its fans, both of which I really liked.
Prior to the bouts, I had called this one at "Sheep minus 150," so I was not expecting a tight game. In the very first jam, Tri-City's Ova Kill bested K Lethal 4-2 to claim the Canadians' only lead of the night. The second half of CRG's jammer tandem took the line next, and Wheezy glided through a fast, textbook 4-0. Over the next few jams, the Cincinnati packs took over. First, a vicious contingent (Sadie, Buckhead Betty, Kitten Kicker, and Nuk'em) forced Ova Kill to the penalty box, yielding a big power jam. The next time out, Penn Tupanga, Ruff'n the Passer, Candy Kickass, and Hannah Barbaric guided Wheezy to a 14-0 result, executing a flawless waterfall on the hapless Thunder jammer near turn 4 in the process. Seven minutes into the game, the Sheep had run out to a 48-7 lead.
The teams traded 4-0's over the next two jams, the highlight being Nuk'em's absolute abuse of Ova Kill at the back of the pack. On the next jam, Ruff'n the Passer did a tremendous job one-on-one with Tri-City jammer Freudian Whip, eventually drawing a forearm penalty on her quarry. Wheezy took advantage of the power jam, pulling a nifty spin-o-rama and generally making a mockery of the Tri-City pack for a 19-0 tally. Over the next few jams, Tri-City went on a mini-run. The damage would have been worse, if not for a nice three-wall at the front of the pack by Sista Shovechild, Candy Kickass and Penn Tupanga. Thunder jammers Preying Mantease and Skate Pastor showed some sweet moves and power, the latter busting through the middle of a Sadie/Nuk'em wall. Twenty minutes into the half, CRG held a commanding 106-28 lead.
A Wheezy power jam and a 9-0 win for K Lethal, during which she put on an amazing burst of speed to fly by on her second scoring pass, added 24 points to the CRG side of the scoreboard. Tri-City got a break on the ensuing jam, however, as Wheezy was sent off on a track cut. With a power jam spanning parts of two jams, the Thunder added 25 points. That number is a bit deceiving, however, as CRG did some excellent penalty killing. Nuk'em had a big jammer take-out, and the combination of Buckhead Betty, Hannah Barbaric, and Kitten Kicker set up a very nice three-wall. With only two minutes remaining in the half, CRG made a push to reassert control. First, Ruff'n and Jungle Lacy formed a dynamic duo at the front, giving K Lethal time to take lead jammer and post a 4-0. Then, Sadie and Betty went to the kitchen and made me a jammer take-out sammich, as Wheezy racked up a 17-4 jam win. The halftime score was CRG 151, Tri-City 57.
The opening ten minutes of the second half were another episode of "The K Lethal Show." She won all of her jams in that span, showing off speed, moves, and some heady play. Included were an 18-1 power jam and a 13-0 result that featured a beautiful duck-under move heading into turn three on her first scoring pass. During that time, Wheezy struggled a bit, yielding a 15-4 power jam on one of her turns. Twelve minutes in, Wheezy got her groove back, posting a very nice 8-0 and leaving the CRG advantage at 205-80.
When K Lethal was sent to the box on a horrendous track cut call, her pack came to the rescue. Sadie, Kitten Kicker, and Sailor Scary did a beautiful job on the penalty kill against Ova Kill. Over the final 15 minutes of the bout, Cincinnati slowly extended the lead, remaining in control. K Lethal once again took center stage, posting the biggest jams of the late game with some highlight-reel moves. Late in the game, Tri-City got one last gasp. Wheezy went to the box on another track cut. While Tri-City did take a 19-4 jam, the CRG penalty kill had some stellar moments. Nuk'em, Sailor Scary, Sadie, and Penn Tupanga set up a beautiful double bridge, and Sadie did some magnificent work blocking at the front. By the time Sailor Scary battered Ova Kill with just a few minutes remaining, there was nothing to do but count down to the inevitable finish. The Black Sheep finished with a 286-125 victory.
While there were many deserving skaters, the MVP nod for the Black Sheep came down to two. Co-MVP's it is! K Lethal earned one with her best game in the past two years. Everything one would expect from her was on display. K flew by befuddled packs with her tremendous speed. She ducked under, spun around, and tiptoed past blockers with her otherworldly agility. But here's where it got really interesting: K played her cleanest and smartest game yet. She yielded only one power jam, and she very rarely fell victim to the late jam calls that often give away points. It was truly an impressive outing.
"If we wanted to dress as someone really fast, we should have gone as K Lethal."
Wheezy's game was not nearly as clean, going off on at least three jammer penalties. Otherwise, however, her outing looked very good. Wheezy bounced back from a rough outing in her last home game, looking much more like the fast, powerful, Chuck Norris-esque force we know. For the first time, CRG stayed exclusively with two jammers for the entire contest.
On the blocking side, Nuk'em claimed the other Co-MVP award. After being the obvious MVP of the home tilt with Toronto, Nuk'em continued her domination of the Great White North in this contest. The Tri-City jammers will need to take advantage of Canada's national healthcare, thanks to hit after jarring hit from CRG's #86. Nuk'em has always been a big hitter, but her overall game has reached new heights this season. She's always in the right place, and no one is better when it comes to pushing a jammer out of bounds and retreating quickly to the back of the pack. Speed, skills, and smarts make Nuk'em a very dangerous blocker.
Nuk'em wasn't alone in deserving kudos for her blocking. Ruff'n the Passer had yet another outstanding game, seeming equally at ease guiding a jammer out of bounds and introducing one to the concrete floor of the Cincinnati Gardens. Ruff'n has made amazing strides in her fitness and conditioning this season, and it has paid off with consistently strong work. Kitten Kicker had her second consecutive superb home bout, playing in some of the game's strongest packs and using her smooth, fluid strides to be everywhere the opposing jammer was.
Buckhead Betty was strong throughout, showing why she is one of CRG's most fearsome stalwarts. Hannah Barbaric continued her transition to blocker, showing the same grit and hustle that she always brought to the jammer line. Sailor Scary busted out some big hits, in addition to thrilling the new CRG fans sitting in turn three. Jungle Lacy rivaled Karch Kiraly as the perfect setter, standing up jammers with excellent positional blocking, to be spiked by her teammates.
On the Tri-City side, there weren't many standouts. Preying Mantease was the best of the bunch, showing some serious power and quickness with and without the star. Leigh-zzie Borden did some very nice work as a blocker. The two most frequent Tri-City jammers, Ova Kill and Freudian Whip, were generally neutralized by the strong CRG packs.
Now, for the good, the bad, and the ugly on the overall experience:
GOOD: As always, my favorite part of the night was getting to talk with so many of the CRG folks. After all of these years, I finally had my first real conversations with (injured) June With A Cleaver and Jungle Lacy, finding both fun, sweet, ad enchanting. I also had my most extensive visit with Garden of Beatin, finding a kindred spirit and a wonderful person. Talking derby (and sports in general) with Bombtrack is always both educational and exhilarating. I had some enjoyable time with quite a few other skaters, including Buckhead Betty, Nuk'em, Annie Tomical, I Caramba, Ruthless Chris, Cincy Psych-o, Big Ugly, and Hot Slice. On top of that, I got to chat with some very cool refs, NSOs, and retired skaters, including Dr. Funkenstein, Captain G, Jennemy, Squintz, TKO, Miss Print, Killian Destroy, and the great RDF Earl. I also got to talk ith the awesome Mama Wheezy and finally met former coach and current announcer Marty.
BAD: Riding the Greyhound. Only for you, CRG. Only for you.
UGLY: The sound system at the Gardens, which had improved greatly in the previous home bout, was once again mostly a garbled mess.
GOOD: Getting lots of extra time to visit, thanks to the VIP treatment I received from the awesome CRG folks.
BAD: Once again, scoreboard problems. The large overhead scoreboard was often behind on the score, until it stopped working completely. Once again, I urge CRG to install another projection screen behind turn one, so that the fans in turns three and four have some chance of seeing the score and clock.
UGLY: The rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. Consider this my vote for having the Mistics sing before every single home bout.
GOOD: I had, by far, my best ever experience at a CRG after-party. For the first time, I didn't feel like an outsider. I got to sit with the cool kids, and we closed the bar at 2:30am. I showed off my wild side, downing a glass of water.
BAD: Attending the bouts alone, I was unable to get any decent photos to accompany this post. I also was unable to continue my tradition of bringing a tasty gift for my CRG friends.
UGLY: The way I must have looked when I finally reached the Greyhound station in Toledo at noon on Sunday.
GOOD: The overall bout production was excellent, as usual. I liked the decision to shift the juniors scrimmage from between bouts to before the doubleheader. It made the intermission seem a bit quicker. So many other leagues could benefit from calling Squintz and getting some tips on keeping the evening tight and engaging.
BAD: I think I managed to offend one of my favorite rollergirls. She has always been very warm to me, and rarely did I attend a bout with getting a hug and a chat. The past two trips to Cincy, however, there hasn't been anything more than a wave and a terse hello. I'm not sure what the deal is, or even if there is a deal, but it may have been due to a joking comment I made on Facebook shortly after the March home bout. Skater X, I'm sorry if I offended you.
GOOD: I loved CRG's fan appreciation idea of having each skater make a personalized gift for a random fan. No other league I've seen does such a wonderful job of engaging its fans, and it shows with the excellent fan support CRG receives.
So, as last call ushered us out of Molly Malone's, I once again enjoyed the CRG hospitality, getting a ride from Dr. Funkenstein back to the Cincinnati Greyhound station. Five hours of waiting for my bus passed relatively easily, as I consumed snacks, listened to music, and rubbed my eyes a lot. The ride back to Toledo on Sunday morning wasn't bad, and some friends came to pick me up there and take me to lunch.
In all, it was a wonderful way to end a remarkable season for both CRG and myself. My favorite team in all of sports went completely undefeated at home. I pushed through countless hours of physical therapy to make my way to Cincy for three of the five home dates, always receiving inspiration to continue pushing forward. I can't wait to see CRG on the road and/or in the playoffs, hopefully returning to my road-tripping ways at the helm of my good old Saturn. Plus, I finally got to use a Weird Al song as the title of one of my posts!