OSWEGO, N.Y. – The Oswego State men’s hockey team’s season has started to reach the end. However for defenseman Tristan Francis it is time going by to become one step closer to throwing on a Lakers sweater in the Deborah F. Stanley Arena next season.
Francis suffered a lower body injury early in the season that would require surgery and end his junior year not even with a regular season matchup under his belt. The challenge seemed not just to get back on the ice but mentally stay strong throughout what would eventually be a long road to recovery.
“Trying to stay focused on the task at hand that seems to be so far away, for me the way I handled that was making smaller goals instead of just making the end goal of being back,” said Francis.
Some of those smaller goals included steps such as getting his procedure done as soon as possible. After that he had to have a cast, use a walking boot after the cast removal, and then start physical therapy.
However the key takeaway of him choosing Oswego was that looking at the negatives of college such as an injury which would leave him out of the lineup and how he would handle it.
“As an athlete you always want everything to go well, but I kinda had in the back of my head that to pick a school to where if I ever did get hurt, or if wasn’t playing or the sport I was doing was not going well that I would be happy outside of it,” said Francis.
Assistant Athletic Trainer Elise Fitzsimmons has worked with Francis all season and she has seen the progress he has made physically but also said how strong he has been mentally over the course of the year.
“It is really easy to shrink into yourself and not put a lot of value in being around the team, but he’s been there every day…it is just all those little things that make him a really great teammate and all of the guys notice it,” said Fitzsimmons.
Furthermore Fitzsimmons would agree with Francis’ point regarding being happy even in or out of the lineup while with the hockey program this season. She said that if he did end up going home for the season that it may have been more of a setback than a stepping stone.
“They (the team) are happy to have him around, they love when he is around and I am glad that he did not just decide to go home and be away from everything because I think that would have been the toughest thing for him,” said Fitzsimmons.
With Fitzsimmons being an athletic trainer for more than just the hockey team, she has seen her fair share of challenges presented with different athletes; and with Francis it was no different. Fitzsimmons was able to navigate each day with her athletes depending on how they are feeling mentally and would find alternatives.
“Even as of two weeks ago there was one day where he said ‘I am not feeling right’, so we backed off and did some other things besides putting him on the ice,” said Fitzsimmons.
Although it is very unlikely that Francis plays this season, it is certain that he will be supporting the team off the ice as they prepare for a SUNYAC title game this weekend against their arch rival the Plattsburgh State Cardinals just as much as the team supported him throughout his recovery.
However it was not just his teammates that supported him, but as well as coaches, family, and even his willingness to compete to get him ready to go for next season.
“Just being around, being on the ice, competing again with my teammates has been just awesome and is pushing me to get better,” said Francis.
Finally the Ontario native credits his teammates for making him feel included in situations where he may have not been physically able to participate and will always be thankful for the return he got back on the ice.
“I remember that first time I got back on the ice… I got a couple stick taps from everybody and I almost got a little bit glossy eyed getting back out there,” said Francis.
Francis will put his past behind him as he will look forward to throwing on that game-day white jersey for the first time in a year next October.