Opening Game of the Finnish Nationals: HRD vs TRD

We waited for the opening game of the Finnish National Cup for 2015 with nervous excitement. As a league we had decided that the coaches of our B team would pick the roster for the National Cup games, which means the rosters would be based on the people training with the B team. We hoped it would give the B team a goal to carry them through the year. We hoped it would make the National Cup more interesting. We hoped nobody would hate us for this decision.

So come game day, we were all nervous. The bus taking the players and officials to the game in Kuusaa was pretty much full. On top of that, there were carloads of league members coming in to watch and cheer. There were calls for updates by the people who couldn’t make it.

Helsinki Roller Derby was to meet Tampere Roller Derby in the very first game of the entire cup. Tampere has a good team with good, and some exceptionally good, players. Queen B’s are good, but they don’t have players that stand out significantly from the others. There was no knowing for sure who would win and by how much. This should be good.

I, personally, didn’t know what to think; who to root for. My roller derby career started with Tampere Roller Derby. The people who taught me to skate were there playing with my dear friends from the fresh meat course. And they would play against the people who had welcomed me as an injured skater, accepted me as one of their Head Non-Skating Officials (aka HNSO) and who were now teaching me to skate again. I knew both teams (Tampere less well now that time has passed, but still well enough), and I knew the game would be nail-bitingly even. Luckily, or unfortunately for me, I was officiating in the later games of the day so even if I had strong feelings for either team, I’d have to keep them to myself – officials do not support any team (apart from the officiating team) on gameday.

On the bus the coach of Queen B’s, Ani Kellomäki, was full of (possibly nervous) energy. When asked about her feelings about the upcoming game, she said: “We are hungry and motivated and…I sound like an ice hockey coach. I have full confidence in my team. If I were to worry about anything, it would be myself.”

Queen B's coaches Aki and Ani

“We’re hungry and motivated.” – Ani
“We’re just focusing on our own game.” – Aki
Photo by Marko Niemelä

The audience was ready. It was heart warming to see Helsinki and Tampere’s fans side by side in the audience. Our All-Stars went all out with cheering. There were green and yellow tassels to shake, there were signs, there were foam hands. And most importantly, there was loud and enthusiastic cheering.

Fans of Helsinki Roller Derby

The enthusiastic fan crowd of Helsinki Roller Derby.
Photo by Marko Niemelä

The players were done with their warmup, the officials (including Helsinki Roller Derby’s very own Anna Miettinen as Inside Whiteboard Operator, Mr Finland as Line-up Tracker, FatRat as Jammer Referee, Ivan Ho as Outside Pack Referee, and C8 as an Alternative referee) in their positions. This was really happening.

Official Ivan Ho

Our very own Ivan Ho taking care of business.
Photo by Marko Niemelä

“FIVE SECONDS…TWEET”

The game was on. Both teams wanted their jammer to be the first lead jammer of the game. The walls worked hard as did the jammers. It took almost a full minute for the lead to be awarded. It went to Tampere. In the first minutes of the game the lead position was unsure. Helsinki was first to enjoy a power jam and they seemed to gain a nice lead. For a short while it looked like they could keep it – until Tampere got their first power jam and went ahead. Toward the end of first period Tampere increased their lead bit by bit. Come half time the score was 67 for Helsinki Roller Derby and 106 for Tampere Roller Derby.

The fans were in a frenzy. “This is too exciting!” “I don’t have a voice left for second period!” These sentences were repeated by many an audience member. 39 points is not much in roller derby. A good power jam or two and that is gone. And there were 30 minutes left to play. There was no telling which way this would go.

Most of the game and especially second period was very much like the first jam – both teams would work hard to man their walls and not let opposition through and Tampere being ever so slightly ahead. At times Tampere seemed to start inching away again. Then Helsinki would start gaining points and make it close – often they were behind by only one point. And Tampere would escape again and Helsinki would work their way up again.

Both jammers stuck in the pack

Jammers had to really work to get through the walls!
Photo by Marko Niemelä

Tampere Roller Derby’s Elina Ruhoranta seemed to always be in the way of Helsinki’s jammers – if Helsinki somehow managed to get her out of the picture, it was considerably easier for Helsinki’s jammer to get through the pack. Easier, but not easy. You cannot build your defense around one person, and Tampere definitely did not do that. Whether or not Ruhoranta was on the track, Helsinki’s jammers had to work hard to get through the pack. Even Raivo, who is known to just bulldoze through a pack, was often struggling behind the red wall. But if there was a superstar blocker in this game, in either team, it was Ruhoranta. Try as I might, I cannot remember similar consistent awesomeness from one single Helsinki Roller Derby blocker.

But you don’t need superstar blockers. You need a team of blockers. A solid wall of them to be more precise. And this is what Helsinki Roller Derby had. If a blocker was in the box, it did not matter who it was – it was always just as hard for Tampere’s jammers to get through the triangles of Helsinki Roller Derby. And this is something Queen B’s have worked hard for. They have worked really hard to become a Team, and that they truly have achieved.

When there were about three and a half minutes left on the game clock, Helsinki Roller Derby did it. They gained lead for the first time since the first half of the first period. The final minutes were exciting and emotional. The roar of the audience was deafening. I nearly hyperventilated and cried from excitement. I’m told other people did cry. Being cool and collected has never been as hard. My heart kept racing well into the next game.

The final score: Helsinki Roller Derby 220, Tampere Roller Derby 209.

Queen B's victory

This is what winning an amazingly tight game looks like.
Photo by Marko Niemelä

The queens awarded Elina Ruhoranta as Best Blocker, Tuho Isa as Best Jammer, and Kira Horpi as Most Valuable Player of Tampere Roller Derby. They in turn named Lara as Best Blocker, Raivo as Best Jammer, and Finn McCruel as Most Valuable Player of Helsinki Roller Derby.

This is what roller derby is at its best. This was the perfect start for the Finnish Nationals of 2015. This was exactly what we hoped to see when we decided to send Queen B’s to play instead of All-Stars.

P.S. If you missed them in action or just want to admire them again, Queen B’s are playing against Stockholm BSTRDs on the 7th of March. Tickets available here. The All-Stars of both teams are playing there too.

Text: Phoenix Down

 

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