Thursday, September 18, 2014

Team France at the 2014 European Derby Tournament (Mons)

I wasn't meant to be rostered. When the selection came out 2 months ago, I was initially second alternate jammer, for 4 rostered jammers. The chances that I would be drafted were almost non-existent. But VERY unfortunately for my fellow jammers and quite luckily for me, two out of four, i.e. half of them couldn't make it for various reasons --mainly wheelchair and money, and I was asked to enter the roster 10 days before the event.
I was surfing on facebook in my hotel room in Kitchener when a message popped into my message box: "Are you free on Sept. 5-6?" "I'm coming to cheer you guys in Mons." "Then bring your skates along, you're in!"

After my Bombshells adventures at the D2 Playoffs on the other side of the ocean, I had planned to get a 3-week break to regenerate my body, badly in need of rest:
  1. My knee got injured during the trip, as a result of a 7-min treadmill jogging warm-up on the very first day. #fml
  2. It was probably on the verge already, since I had had a contracture at the thigh for a good month, putting pressure on the patellar ligament, which got the final blow in being asked to *jog on a treadmill*.
  3. I compensated for that tendinitis with the other leg during the 4 games of the D2 tournament, and my weakened ankle gave away too.
Nothing serious, but that chain reaction had to be stopped. And that call, as sweet as it tasted, made my rest plans go up in smoke. My objectives had to be redefined: Total rest for as long as I could, i.e. hardly 2 weeks, and Que sera sera.

Since I was not meant to be rostered, I had planned to drive there with Wonka and sleep in the back of the car on a super comfy mattress, instead of staying at the hotel with the rest of the team. When I realized I had to play, it stressed me out a little: Sleeping in a car, with no facilities around, without being around my team mates... It wasn't really optimal for good performances, was it?
(In the end it proved to be more comfy than the hotel, and we could sleep in because we were parked on the parking of the venue. Double win!)
Team France Roster for the event

The aim of the French Team for this tournament was to reach the finals and -preferably- win it. Amongst the 8 national teams that were registered, Germany was the main threat. And I knew it too well since half of the team was from Berlin, that is to say, half of the team was made of my own team mates... and had just had a little D2 Playoffs warm-up two weeks before. #lol
France was in the upper part of the bracket while Germany was in the lower part. Which meant that if we were to meet, it could only happen in finals. But before that, we'd have to make our way through...


The France-Portugal game opened the ball on Saturday at noon. We had been in the venue since 9AM in order to take our time to meet up, test the floor --a delight of a wooden floor with such a perfect grip, get our clothing endowment from our latest sponsor, Hellbow Skating which had a stand at the event, set up in our dressing box --the last one in the far end, warm up off skates and on skates, have a pre-bout team meeting... I even had the time to squeeze in an express shower (remember: I sleep in a car).

At noon, we were geared up, warmed up, pumped up and ready to roll.

We had no intelligence on Portugal so we observed them during their on-skates warm-up. A small team (in size, not in numbers) with some elements who, given their footwork, probably had a rink hockey background. Strategy: Playing the long game. Word was given to us jammers to take the lead and score points for as long as we could while our packs would wear out the opposing jammers. Even if I don't like refering to it because they lack context, stats are eloquent enough: Portugal only took 2 leads in the whole game, scoring an average of 2.76 points per jam against 12.90 for us.

Games of the first round were shorter than the rest, with only 2x20min halves. It passed in a flash!
We got off to a great start, got a bit carried away by the end of the first half with heavy penalties, had to refocus on the second half -which took us a while- and finally ended on a very high note.

Conclusion: I found it really pleasurable to sometimes find myself behind packs that were even more vertically challenged than I am, so that I could enjoy a full view onto the track while driving.


It was a long day for Team France, doing both the opening and closing games of the day. That one was a full 2x30min bout. For the second round, which was none other than the semi-finals already, France met the winner of the second qualification group, the Netherlands (113-83).
Let's be honest, we had hoped for Wales to win: France had already played the Netherlands during the Don't Mix Up Parisian event last June and we had rather meet a new team than do a re-match. However, the Dutch roster was very different from the one we knew and held a few surprises in store. The least to say is that they were less compliant!

I wasn't rostered on that one and was pretty glad about it when I saw the toughness of the game and the consequences of it on my team mates: Cracked nose, arm in a sling and other joyful souvenirs... 38 penalties on the Dutch side, 29 on the French side.

We went to the pizzeria next to the hotel for dinner. A group of 25. Took ages to be served. But we went to bed with happy bellies!


On Sunday, we only had one game left, the finals, planned -of course- as the ultimate game of the event, at 6PM. We had time. We were to meet up at 3PM to the max but most of us were already in the stands at 11AM for the kick-off game of the day: The semi-finals opposing Germany to Belgium. That semi-final too was a re-mach. Also with complete different teams. This winter, Germany had lost the game. This time, it was another kettle of fish.
Germany had a similar evolution to France during the Tournament: They had slaughtered Spain on the first round with the irrevocable score of 255 to 32, (Note: Spain fought well and scores do not reflect the actual gameplay!) and now they had taken their revenge on Belgium, with again pretty much the same scores as our semi-finals: 264-105.
So many similarities couldn't mean but one thing: Our forces were equal, and the final was going to be super tight.


I was both very excited and a little concerned about that game. I was basically going to play with my French team mates, against my Bombshells team mates. An unsettling configuration, which I felt reassuring at the same time. I had people I liked on both sides. Cool and lame. Because putting a personality on your opponents instead of anonymous numbers can be as empowering as weakening. I was also hoping my brains wouldn't bug and make me run towards the wrong color...
I overheard that the French coaches were a little worried that the Tchermans knew me, and that they'd potentially neutralize me more easily than jammers they wouldn't know. On the other hand, indeed they knew me, but I knew a good bunch of them too. It was a shared configuration. There were a couple of German rockstars that needed a little demystification for the French to maintain a confident and positive attitude. So I complied. #angelface. I have to admit that it's pretty uncomfortable to be a double agent!
I was also worried that whatever the outcome, there would have been either resentment or toxic competition feelings growing out of it. Foolish thoughts can cross your mind when you're in doubt. That was obviously not the case!

It felt like scrimmage on the jammer line. There was respect, jokes, knowing but focused glances, so that it felt like home. And I had fun. I was pumped up. It was my chance to complete my come-back on track for good, and I wouldn't let my mental fail me this time. Enough with the lousy season! All the people I had to prove myself to were on track, right there, right then. To Team France it was Hey guys, I'm back. And to Team Germany and the Bombshells: Hey guys, this is what I hadn't had the opportunity to show you yet.
My knee wasn't exactly at its best but I had the means to deal with it: American painkillers to make sure I'd have flowing moves and wouldn't compensate and damage something else, private physio who made the biggest knee tape ever to protect the rest of the knee... And the will to do it. Except for a little less cushioning on the left leg, nothing showed during the game.

The whole team as a unit was overfocused and ready. We were so impatient that we were all geared up and on skates an hour in advance. We had a real challenge ahead with a finals to play, against -for the first time- a team of equal level: not insanely higher, or lower (here and there). It was the first time that we were going to experience a tight game altogether. We were all boiling out of excitement in the suicide zone, waiting for the 3rd-place game to end, when Furieux gathered the whole team in a free changing room for relaxation and breathing exercises. But we were fine and started casual conversations instead.

Finals: France-Germany - Credit: Vincent Micheletti

TIME HAD COME. I opened the jammer rotation together with one of the above-mentioned rockstars, who got lead but I was close and the jam was called off at the first pass. 0-4. A few adjustments were needed but it was encouraging.
The next 5 jams were our lucky streak: We froze the German scores in pulling penalties on their jammers and took a comfortable lead in scoring 48 points! Then followed a relative bad patch of 4 jams where we didn't score a single point, but the opposing jammers were forced to call off after their first pass because our packs didn't do them any favors and we were hot on their heels. At Jam 10, we had managed to contain the bleeding, we were still leading 53 to 31.
Jams rarely lasted longer than the first scoring pass. And on both sides, we rarely had the luxury to score a full pass. At the break, the point differential had been slightly increased in our favor: 88 to 53. But it was no time to rest on our laurels. Everything was going to be played in the second half. We were entering the mental game.
The second period witnessed two even teams with a recurring pattern: One would take the advantage, getting lead and improving their scores, while the other would stagnate for a handful of jams. Then the ball would change hands... #figureofspeech
We started the second half with two leads, then we entered a starvation period of 5 jams while Germany steadily gained on us: 94-76. In turn, we took the upper hand for 5 jams and got more room to breathe: 106-80. We hoped too fast: Germany got a powerjam and scored two jams of 3 passes in a row. 106-105, they couldn't be closer! It took us a starpass and two virgin 0-0 jams to reset and control the game again, but situation was contained and we reached 120 points, with a little 15-point lead.
Time was starting to run out and a sense of urgency made things accelerate a little. We alternated leads. We managed to bag a few more points on a two-pass jam. 129-109. Less than 10 min remaining. Let's JUST hold the bar. Then we thought it was a bit too easy and kindly offered a powerjam to the Germans, who honored our present in exploiting it to the max. We were now neck-and-neck: 129-127. One jam remaining, now we're talking business! And guess who lined up on the jammer line?
It was only then, that I decided to look over my shoulder and get an idea of the point situation. We were still leading. All we had to do was 1) get lead 2) prevent the other jammer from scoring, optional 3) make more points and 4) keep an eye on the clock to call off when time's up. That was in theory. In practice: I got lead at the same time as my blockers forced a cut on the opposing jammer, scored a full pass in the confusion, then my blockers got so excited that they were too scared to force a penalty on me and stood still, I scored two more points before being recycled, took my time to go back on track, eyes on the clock, --3, 2, 1, 0, and taped my hands on my hips. This was it.


We had won the finals of the European Tournament. Which sparked off controversy right away:
We were not European Champions -though we were not claiming to be- since there were countries missing, including some serious contenders to the podium like Sweden or Finland, as well as the UK...
Still, we had won the European Tournament. And as the title says, it is no Championships. Therefore there can't be a Champion in the end, just a tournament winner, and it suits us fine! We had played and won a nailbiting game with a great team performance, that's what we were really proud of.

National Anthems - Credit: NSP 189
Results brackets - Source:


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