Buffalo’s Lake Effect Furies Top Killamazoo 263-94

Photo: Chris Kalisiak (CK Photographic Systems). Furies Blockers Tie Up Killamazoo Jammer.

On Saturday night, May 7, in front of a rowdy crowd at Buffalo Riverworks, Queen City Roller Girls’ chartered team the Lake Effect Furies trounced Killimazoo’s Kill Squad 263-94.

Or did they?

In the months of May and June the games played by chartered roller derby teams are all about Womens Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) playoffs.  What rank your team sits at on June 30 will determine if you are rooting for them at Division 1, Division 2, or waiting for them to come back with a better strategy next season.

On Saturday night, the Furies sat ranked at 35th in WFTDA; Killimazoo perched at 74th.  That’s a big difference and it’s one reason why there was such a differential in scores.  But there’s the score on the board and then there’s the score on the rankings calculator. Did the Furies win big enough? Or did Killamazoo lose on the track but win in the rankings game?

The Furies had to beat Killimazoo. The complicated ranking system of the WFTDA does not allow for mercy during a sanctioned game. It does not allow for any team to ease off the gas pedal and allow the score gap to close, even in the final jam.

It’s one reason why there was such intensity on the Riverworks derby track on Saturday night despite the lack of points on the Killamazoo side. Every second of every jam, every point scored or every point denied is vitally important to both of these teams.

The Furies had a taste of D1 last year and are hungry for more. They played the number 1 team in the world last year (sure, they lost 590-29, but they played Gotham!), and they want that chance again.  After hosting and playing in the 2013 D2 playoffs and playing in the Kitchener-Waterloo 2014 playoffs, Killamazoo missed the cut in 2015, and this year they are scrambling to make it.  Equally hungry for a playoff spot, they need to boost themselves up to at least 60th.

Killamazoo and the Furies have met twice before.  The first game was at the 2013 D2 playoffs in Kalamazoo, Michigan and it was the first ever Playoff game the Furies played in and Killamazoo won in a close game 209-194. A year later the Furies got payback with a score of 198-195.

Here’s the easiest example to show the difference. In March 2016 the Furies played Toronto (ranked 42nd) and won 96-257. Despite a smaller score differential than the Furies/Killamazoo game, the Furies earned more ranking points because Toronto was higher ranked.

So although the Furies didn’t drop in rankings after the Killamazoo game, scoring 393 points which is 16 over their current average, they didn’t score enough points against them to get a big enough boost from it.

Why not?

Killamazoo came with specific strategies in mind. “We came up with a specific plan and specific strategy for this game and we followed it,” said Killamazoo captain Protasiewicz.

Their strategy might have included some constant tough offense that wrecked havoc with the Furies normally unflappable walls. Although the Furies took lead jam 77% of the time in the first period and 63% of the time in the second, Furies blockers struggled to hold the Killamazoo jammers for long causing short scoring jams. LiBrawlian had a 16 and 14 point jam in the first period and a 17 and 18 point jams in the second period.

LiBrawlian remains the heavy in the jamming department grabbing 50% of the points. She also managed to reduce her penalties sitting in the box once as a jammer and the other time as the pivot.

Generally, penalties were fairly even handed across both teams: Furies had 42 penalties (8 of them jammer penalties) and Killamazoo had 41 total penalties.

If you ignored the scoreboard the game was exciting. Killamazoo brought a physicality and energy to the track that kept fans glued to the action.

Killamazoo chased down every point and made the Furies grunt and groan for every one they collected.

“Queen City is such an upstanding league and we’re grateful that they invited us out to play as a D1 team,” said Protasiewicz. “We’re trying to get back into D2. All of us are super thankful and all of us love playing them.”

Next up for the Furies will be three games at the Beaver Fever tournament in Kitchener –Waterloo, Canada. They will be playing Calgary (ranked 57), Rideau Valley (ranked 60) and Tri-City (ranked 52) who they beat soundly at the Quad City Chaos tournament in March 209-71. But again, they need to beat these teams by a lot in order to keep their D1 spot or raise their trajectory.

After that will be the one game on the Furies schedule that lines them up against a team that is above them in rankings. They will play Steel City (Pittsburgh) who is currently ranked 30th.

“This game showed us the areas of game play we need to focus on and tighten up,” said co-captain LiBrawlian. “Killamazoo came at us hard and we weren’t able to hold their jammers as much as we should have. It’s something we will be focusing on in future games.”