Oakwood’s hidden talent

FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME: Barons blueliner Claire Russell says she loves playing for her school and will miss the tight hockey community at Oakwood.FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME: Barons blueliner Claire Russell says she loves playing for her school and will miss the tight hockey community at Oakwood.

Girls hockey team shoots for Tier 2 title

Sometimes when there’s a winning tradition with the basketball teams other sports get put on ice.

But that’s okay for the Oakwood Barons senior girls hockey team because that’s their milieu.

For the past six years, coach Lisa Palozzi has been doing her best to gather up Barons to take to the arenas, and this year, with the squad second only to Silverthorn Spartans, there’s a good shot at a Tier 2 title.

Part of that reason is the two rep players who are a presence both on and off the ice: defenceman Claire Russell and netminder Maggie Prince.

“Claire’s the first girl to pick up the puck, last girl to leave the ice, she’s the one who is going to play and she runs out to the game and runs back to the school to do more stuff,” Palozzi said of her captain, who spends her off-time bluelining for Leaside Wildcats.

As for Maggie, who represents Toronto Red Wings outside of school, she’s stalwart in net, albeit with a few chinks in the armour.

“She was actually picked to play on the boys hockey team to be their number one, and I had to strongly refuse,” Palozzi said. “I think sometimes it’s hard for her because there’s very little action for her or she sees a different type of puck from what she’s used to.

“She’s probably used to a lot of slapshots, a lot of traffic in front of her net.”

Just before a Friday afternoon practice, Russell shared the highlights of her four years as an Oakwooder. Her partner in crime, Prince, was unfortunately absent, out with a cold.

“It works well to have Maggie as the goalie because we get to work closely with each other,” she said. “I try to get her assists as much as possible so I’ll pass the puck back to her because it gets kind of boring back there sometimes.”

Though the girls hockey may not be in the limelight, it’s okay for Russell. Coming from a family where everyone plays, from brother Sam to dad Alex and mom Andrea Lennox, Russell hones the parts of her game that go untapped during Leaside games.

“It’s really funny, in rep I have zero goals. It’s the joke of my team,” she said. “I hit bars, and posts. I ring iron all of the time but I’m leading in our school’s goals.

“It’s really cool to have the school hockey because I can work on the things I can’t usually do in rep hockey.”

Palozzi sees it in her Brian Leetch-esque blueliner.

“She seems to always have a smile on her face when she rushes the puck,” she said. “She basically has the same move: she dekes into their zone, goes all the way around their net, puts the puck on her strong side and puts it in.”

Still, Palozzi says there is one obstacle to overcome if the team wants the Tier 2 title, especially after a recent 3-1 loss to the Forest Hill Falcons.

“I’m kind of glad that we lost to Forest Hill,” she said. “(The girls) were getting mad at themselves and they realized they need to put a bit more effort into it.

“They’re not going to win just based on the inability of the other team, you have to start winning because of your own abilities.”

Russell is aware of that and hopes to bring home some hardware before she heads east to St. Francis Xavier University in September.

And there’s no lack of faith for Russell, as there are many from within the Oakwood community rooting for them.

“We have a lot of our supply teachers who used to work here, like our old teach Mr. Muystra who used to teach (drafting), and now he loves the girls hockey,” she said. “It’s really cool to see who’s really into hockey around the school.”

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