By Matt Williams
---- — BOSTON — It was one of the most difficult decisions of Colin Blackwell’s young life.
As much as it pained him, the 20-year-old junior at Harvard University knew that for both his long-term health, and his long-term hockey career, he had to step away, at least for the time being.
Lingering symptoms from post-concussion syndrome have forced Blackwell to the miss the entire 2013-14 college hockey season. He’s also decided not to take classes at Harvard during the spring semester, focusing on getting back to full health and targeting a fall return.
“It’s what’s best for my health,” Blackwell said last night during the 62nd annual Beanpot at TD Garden, where the Crimson fell to Northeastern in the opener, 6-0.
“For so long I was focused just on getting back, or on school, and I never let myself fully heal. There was so much stress trying to come back I might have shot myself in the foot a little.”
Blackwell’s sophomore season for the Crimson was cut short by concussions nearly 12 months ago. He suffered an initial concussion during a game and was symptom-free in a matter of weeks. The St. John’s Prep graduate received another concussion later, however, and the short time between them seemed to magnify the symptoms.
“I’d never had a concussion in my whole life, so I didn’t know what it felt like,” Blackwell explained. “At first, I thought I was sick. You have pressure in your head and some in your chest, and in general you just feel tired and worn down. For a while I kind of thought I had a head cold, but when it didn’t pass our trainers diagnosed me with a concussion.”
Throughout the summer, Blackwell just didn’t feel right. He could see in himself everything he’d heard about concussions in professional sports — feeling sensitive to light, good days turning bad for seemingly no reason at all, and some mood swings.
“The summer was the worst. It was miserable. There were times I was really struggling,” said Blackwell. “It’s been a complete 180 since then.”
At first, Blackwell wanted to be back on the ice this season. He was practicing with the Crimson in the fall, though with a non-contact jersey. After some drills he’d feel dizzy; part of the frustration of head injuries is not knowing exactly why.
“I hadn’t done much physical activity in nine months. So you feel light, and you don’t know if it’s related or if it’s just because you’re out of shape,” Blackwell said.
Like any athlete, Blackwell gets frustrated watching his teammates at Harvard (6-12-3 this winter), knowing he could be out there helping them. An injury he hoped would heal in a few weeks or months is going on 12 months now and will probably rob him of what could’ve been a breakout junior season.
Blackwell had three goals and 14 points for Harvard in just 21 games as a sophomore after notching 19 points in a full season as a freshman. That came after he was Most Valuable Player at the Super 8 tournament for St. John’s Prep as a high school senior and was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the seventh round that year.
“A Beanpot game, or any game, I want to be out there. My teammates are my best friends, like my family and I want to be there for them. Playing in games like this is all you think about growing up,” said Blackwell, who is living in North Andover during his semester off, though between Crimson games and seeing doctors he spends plenty of time in Cambridge.
“As much as it was the doctor’s decision to take the year off, it was my decision, too. It’s hard, but I know this is for the best not just for hockey, but for the rest of my life.”