WOONSOCKET ā Brian Belisleās senior year should be one of the best times of his life.
Yes, this should be a precious time for the Cumberland teenager as he winds through the final stretch of his high school career at Mount St. Charles, not only enjoying his time with his friends in and out of the classroom, but also focusing on plans for the next step in his life ā college.
And, of course, Belisle should be relishing his final season with the schoolās hockey team and scoring goals. Lots of them. He led the state in scoring last winter with 18 goals and 22 assists, and he should be piling up the numbers again while leading the Mounties in the battle for the Division I-Cimini title with Bishop Hendricken and La Salle.
But instead of this year being one of the best times of Belisleās life, itās been the most trying.
Heās suffered multiple concussions within a month of each other, and itās the second one ā a moderate Grade II concussion on a blindside hit he absorbed in his teamās season opener on Dec. 8 against Cranston West ā that has kept him out of action, as well as away from school, for more than a month.
Instead of being in class and on the ice, Belisle had been cooped up at home dealing with the symptoms that come with the head injury, such as avoiding loud noises and bright lights and battling his struggles with his concentration and focus on simple tasks people take for granted.
But time heals all wounds, and while heās still not close to 100 percent over his concussion, Belisle is well on his way back to normalcy.
āI felt like I was in a fog, but now all my symptoms are tending to decrease,ā Belisle said in the Adelard Arena lobby 45 minutes before one of his teamās midweek workouts. āI generally felt better this past week, the best Iāve felt.ā
Belisleās felt well enough to return to class after missing more than a month of it (including the week-plus of Christmas vacation), but only attending half days. And heās also participated in his teamās practices, but doing so with a gray āno contactā jersey and taking part in limited drills.
āI feel like the disabled guy out there,ā Brian said with a smile. āBut on the ice, Iāve been feeling great for about two weeks. The doctors said I could do light skating, as long as I donāt get any symptoms, and so far, I havenāt got any. Itās just with the cognitive stuff is when I get them.ā
The Mounties, who were 6-2 heading into Saturday nightās showdown with unbeaten Bishop Hendricken, could sure use Belisle back on their first line, especially with another battle with the Hawks slated for next week and two contests with La Salle on the horizon.
And according to the Mount senior, it may not be that long before he returns to action and gives his team a late spark as it seeks a return to the playoffs.
āI think Iām going to be back within the next couple of weeks,ā he predicted, āconsidering my symptoms have gotten better. But Iām feeling better every day, and now that Iām starting to feel healthy again, Iām going to be able to come back.ā
There are still a few things Belisle needs to do in order to return, and one of them is to get the approval of his coach and father, Dave Belisle, who insists that safety comes first and foremost, and everything has to be perfect and in order before he hands his son back his No. 7 game jersey and sends him out for the opening faceoff.
āLike Iāve said before, he has to be 100 percent when he comes back,ā said the Mount coach. āWhen you see him out there, you know the neurologist has given him the okay because he passed his impact tests, heās doing well in school, and heās ready to go.ā
āMy first concussion was mid-November in the semifinals of the regional tournament for the R.I. Saints against the Fairfield (Conn.) Blues,ā recalled Brian, who before the season, played for the Saintsā Midget Major Orange team that features some of the stateās top high school standouts.
āI passed the puck and I was near [Fairfieldās] bench and I got hit into their bench,ā he added, āand the whiplash of half my body going into the bench, and half my body staying on the ice, caused the concussion. My head didnāt even hit anything; it was my head moving fast in one direction and my body staying in the other.
āI thought it was just a bang in the head, so I asked my dad for Advil and I went out there the next period. Then I got hit really hard in the open ice, and that second impact put the nail in the coffin.ā
Brian was down, but not out. He took a few weeks off from hockey, and in school, he was able to function and ācould still focus a little bit.ā When late-November workouts began for the Mounties, he was still sidelined, but after he ādid the whole processā associated with concussions, he put in a week of workouts with his team and was good to go for the season opener.
The game didnāt get off to a good start for the Mounties, who were down by a 2-1 score on its Adelard Arena ice to the upset-minded Falcons in the early stages of the second period. Belisle took the ice for his second shift of that period determined to help his team net the equalizer, but he wouldnāt come off it in one piece.
āI was curling back into our zone to get a breakout pass,ā said Brian. āI was looking back for the pass, and the pass was about halfway to me, and the guy stepped up andā¦
āI wasnāt even ready. I didnāt even see him coming. It was a blindside hit and I was defenseless. I know I got up and got off the ice ā there was about 10 seconds of that I donāt remember. And then I got into the locker room, and thatās when I started realizing that I had another concussion, because I didnāt feel right. Itās hard to explain if you havenāt been through what Iāve been through. Itās pretty tough, because that was a pretty severe one.ā
Did Belisle feel like he came back from his concussion too soon?
āI donāt,ā he said. āI donāt feel like I did. I feel like I took the right amount of time off. I felt like I was ready to come back. My dad wasnāt going to let me come back if I wasnāt ready, and I wasnāt going to let myself come back if I knew I wasnāt (ready), which is why Iām taking my time with this one.ā
Take his time he has, and now things are looking up for him both on the ice and in school. And speaking of school, getting back to his normal full-time routine is one of the determining factors in Belisleās return to the ice, and he plans to attend a full day on Monday.
āI have to get back to functioning normally at school in order to be able to play,ā he admitted. āAt first, I couldnāt focus. The symptoms would always kick in, but now that Iām allowing my brain to heal and Iām giving it time, I havenāt been getting symptoms with schoolwork and Iāve been making it up.
āMy teachers have been great. The school has been great. They have been taking my concussion into consideration concerning midterms. They know itās my senior year and they understand what Iām going through, and (seeing how) theyāre being so good about this, it makes me feel better.ā
āIf that part wasnāt there, weād be struggling right now, because education comes first,ā added the elder Belisle, āso I have to give kudos to the school. Weāre very thankful for what they have done for Brian.ā
While the Mounties have won six of their first eight league contests, things have not been all roses and sunshine for the most storied hockey team in the state.
The two losses, a 4-0 thrashing earlier in the season by Hendricken and a 2-0 setback to Coventry, the teamās first defeat to a public school team in recent memory, did not sit well with some of Mountās loyal supporters. Neither did the teamās 1-2 record in its own Holiday Face-Off Classic last month.
āItās definitely tough watching my team not win (games) that they normally should,ā said Brian. āObviously itās my senior year and I stayed here to play, and as a captain, I want to help carry my team to the state championship, but not being able to do that is definitely tough.
āI love hockey. Iāve played this my whole life, and not being able to play at Mount my senior year, for my grandfather and for my dad, itās been tough, which is giving me that extra push to get back.ā
Itās indeed been tough, but it hasnāt meant Belisleās been out of the picture. He still attends every contest at Adelard and travels with the team for their road games, and while he eagerly waits for the okay to return to action, heās been doing whatever he can to give his team a lift on and off the ice.
āShowing a positive attitude to my teammates, and just being a captain off the ice, is something that Iām trying to do,ā said Belisle, who hopes to study business and continue his hockey career in college. āNow that Iām showing that Iām going to be able to come back, I think the guys are really pumped to see it and Iām pumped to see it as well. I really want to get back out there.ā
āHe handling this like a professional,ā said the Mount coach. āItās amazing that he hasnāt shown any frustration or anxiety. Heās in practice encouraging everything, and when heās not playing, heās never complaining or saying āI wish I was out thereā or being critical of his teammates. Heās been a really positive influence and heās still a big presence to our team.ā