WOONSOCKET — Brian Belisle’s 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 – college.
And, of course, Belisle should be relishing his final season with the school’s 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 Belisle’s life, it’s been the most trying.
He’s suffered multiple concussions within a month of each other, and it’s the second one – a moderate Grade II concussion on a blindside hit he absorbed in his team’s season opener on Dec. 8 against Cranston West – 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 he’s still not close to 100 percent over his concussion, Belisle is well on his way back to normalcy.
“I felt like I was in a fog, but now all my symptoms are tending to decrease,” Belisle said in the Adelard Arena lobby 45 minutes before one of his team’s midweek workouts. “I generally felt better this past week, the best I’ve felt.”
Belisle’s 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 he’s also participated in his team’s practices, but doing so with a gray “no contact” jersey and taking part in limited drills.
“I feel like the disabled guy out there,” Brian said with a smile. “But on the ice, I’ve been feeling great for about two weeks. The doctors said I could do light skating, as long as I don’t get any symptoms, and so far, I haven’t got any. It’s just with the cognitive stuff is when I get them.”
The Mounties, who were 6-2 heading into Saturday night’s 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.
“I think I’m going to be back within the next couple of weeks,” he predicted, “considering my symptoms have gotten better. But I’m feeling better every day, and now that I’m starting to feel healthy again, I’m going to be able to come back.”
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.
“Like I’ve said before, he has to be 100 percent when he comes back,” said the Mount coach. “When you see him out there, you know the neurologist has given him the okay because he passed his impact tests, he’s doing well in school, and he’s ready to go.”
“My first concussion was mid-November in the semifinals of the regional tournament for the R.I. Saints against the Fairfield (Conn.) Blues,” recalled Brian, who before the season, played for the Saints’ Midget Major Orange team that features some of the state’s top high school standouts.
“I passed the puck and I was near [Fairfield’s] bench and I got hit into their bench,” he added, “and the whiplash of half my body going into the bench, and half my body staying on the ice, caused the concussion. My head didn’t even hit anything; it was my head moving fast in one direction and my body staying in the other.
“I 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.”
Brian was down, but not out. He took a few weeks off from hockey, and in school, he was able to function and “could still focus a little bit.” When late-November workouts began for the Mounties, he was still sidelined, but after he “did the whole process” associated with concussions, he put in a week of workouts with his team and was good to go for the season opener.
The game didn’t 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 wouldn’t come off it in one piece.
“I was curling back into our zone to get a breakout pass,” said Brian. “I was looking back for the pass, and the pass was about halfway to me, and the guy stepped up and…
“I wasn’t even ready. I didn’t even see him coming. It was a blindside hit and I was defenseless. I know I got up and got off the ice – there was about 10 seconds of that I don’t remember. And then I got into the locker room, and that’s when I started realizing that I had another concussion, because I didn’t feel right. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t been through what I’ve been through. It’s pretty tough, because that was a pretty severe one.”
Did Belisle feel like he came back from his concussion too soon?
“I don’t,” he said. “I don’t 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 wasn’t going to let me come back if I wasn’t ready, and I wasn’t going to let myself come back if I knew I wasn’t (ready), which is why I’m taking my time with this one.”
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 Belisle’s return to the ice, and he plans to attend a full day on Monday.
“I have to get back to functioning normally at school in order to be able to play,” he admitted. “At first, I couldn’t focus. The symptoms would always kick in, but now that I’m allowing my brain to heal and I’m giving it time, I haven’t been getting symptoms with schoolwork and I’ve been making it up.
“My teachers have been great. The school has been great. They have been taking my concussion into consideration concerning midterms. They know it’s my senior year and they understand what I’m going through, and (seeing how) they’re being so good about this, it makes me feel better.”
“If that part wasn’t there, we’d be struggling right now, because education comes first,” added the elder Belisle, “so I have to give kudos to the school. We’re very thankful for what they have done for Brian.”
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 team’s first defeat to a public school team in recent memory, did not sit well with some of Mount’s loyal supporters. Neither did the team’s 1-2 record in its own Holiday Face-Off Classic last month.
“It’s definitely tough watching my team not win (games) that they normally should,” said Brian. “Obviously it’s 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.
“I love hockey. I’ve played this my whole life, and not being able to play at Mount my senior year, for my grandfather and for my dad, it’s been tough, which is giving me that extra push to get back.”
It’s indeed been tough, but it hasn’t meant Belisle’s 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, he’s been doing whatever he can to give his team a lift on and off the ice.
“Showing a positive attitude to my teammates, and just being a captain off the ice, is something that I’m trying to do,” said Belisle, who hopes to study business and continue his hockey career in college. “Now that I’m showing that I’m going to be able to come back, I think the guys are really pumped to see it and I’m pumped to see it as well. I really want to get back out there.”
“He handling this like a professional,” said the Mount coach. “It’s amazing that he hasn’t shown any frustration or anxiety. He’s in practice encouraging everything, and when he’s not playing, he’s never complaining or saying ‘I wish I was out there’ or being critical of his teammates. He’s been a really positive influence and he’s still a big presence to our team.”