This past weekend, Buddy Oakes of PredsOnTheGlass and I made our way to Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium to witness something we had never seen before: women’s roller derby. When Buddy first came to me about this a couple weeks ago, I didn’t think he was serious about it. But sure enough, there we were in the ‘Suicide Seats’ watching the Nashville Roller Girls and Fort Wayne Derby Girls going head-to-head!
When we were taking in the action, I kept asking myself how roller derby compares to hockey.
First of all, you have the round rink – much smaller than an NHL rink – in which the ladies skate around an infinite amount of times. (I don’t know how they don’t get dizzy from the frenetic pace.)
Another similarity would be the aggressive skating and intensity. Those girls fight for every inch, kind of like hockey players (especially in the playoffs).
You also have five skaters on the rink at the same time, if don’t include the goaltenders in hockey. There is one jammer for each team in roller derby, who can rack up points like it’s no one's business. The other four are blockers, paving the way for the jammers to get through and capture points.
There is in fact checking and elbow-throwing in roller derby, which can get ugly at times; so much so that you can get a penalty and sit in the penalty box (it’s more like a bench). When this instance occurs, the other team goes on the ‘power jam’ – which is equivalent to a power play in hockey.
There can be some big hits on the track, as well. The crowd of roughly 2-to-3,000 was ooing and aahing all night as there were some Zdeno Chara-like checks.
On the flip side, there are a lot of differences between the game of hockey and roller derby. Games are referred to as ‘bouts’, fighting is not welcomed, there is no puck (or ball, for that matter), the girls don't wear much padding, and the cheerleaders aren’t attractive by any stretch of the imagination (especially compared to the ice girls you see in the NHL)
Like every sport (not just hockey), these girls have nicknames; but the way they use them is XFL-style. Almost every player has a pseudo name they go by and wear on the back of their jersey.
Nashville’s top player is Rambo Sambo, who is one of the best players in the nation. She’s like a combination of Jerome Bettis and Chris Johnson on the rink (or, in hockey terms, Milan Lucic and Sidney Crosby)! Other players representing Nashville with goofy pseudo names are Britches n’ Hose, Four-Leaf Roller, and Hildabeast… while their coach’s name is Master Bates. Heh.
Buddy and I got to see a doubleheader on Saturday, and Nashville won both bouts. Their ‘B’ team – a.k.a the Brawl Stars – took down Fort Wayne 148-77. In the second bout, Nashville’s All-Stars were victorious 139-104, with Rambo Sambo leading the way.
Before and after the game, the Roller Girls’ staff was kind enough to set-up interviews with some of the players and the coach. Here are their responses when I asked them to compare hockey and roller derby…
Rambo Sambo: “I would definitely say the aggression is there. Fights don’t break out; they are few and far between. It’s frowned upon… we don’t want to be linked to the old-school roller derby. There’s no puck and there’s no ball, so that’s different. But you’re still skating, and you’re still aggressive; it’s very, very aggressive. Those are two things that crossover.”
Susan: “There is a lot of parallelism to hockey. You’re having to dodge if you have a blocker coming at you, if someone’s breaking away; whereas one of your defensemen is trying to take you out (in hockey). There are a lot of parallels in that regard.”
Master Bates: “The hits are very similar. If you asked any person who came and watched the bout, they’d say scoring and offsides are probably the same in both sports. Scoring in roller derby can be a little hard to comprehend at first; same as icing and offsides in hockey. The scoring shouldn’t be that hard… I just think people are looking for a ball or puck.”
Being the big sports fan that I am (and totally new to roller derby), this was certainly a different experience. It was a lot more entertaining than I expected, and I was able to finally grasp the rules and concept of roller derby as the second bout progressed. I will say this, though… I would much rather prefer a hockey game over a roller derby bout!
We thank the Nashville Roller Girls for allowing Buddy and I access to the players as we discovered what the sport was really about, and how it relates to hockey.
To learn more about women’s roller derby, please visit the WFTDA website. Here is a link to Buddy’s stories (Parts 1 and 2) on his experience!
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.