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Belisle’s Influence Will Last Far Beyond His Final MLL Game

August 3, 2018
When the curtain closes on the Cannons 2018 season, a member of their supporting cast for the past 10 seasons will take his final bow. An integral part of Boston's defense and its only Major League Lacrosse (MLL) championship in 2011, Mitch Belisle will take to the Harvard Stadium turf for the last time Saturday. Including the playoffs, it will be his 118th in a Cannons’ uniform and 141st MLL game.

Belisle’s final appearance in Boston will come against the Ohio Machine and a former teammate from his second year (2008) in MLL with the Los Angeles Riptide, Kyle Harrison, who is one of the few left in the league that preceded Belisle to the professional lacrosse stage. Teammate Max Seibald also will play his last MLL game Saturday, leaving venerable teammate, Brodie Merrill, alone among the 30-somethings for now.

“I was just looking back at old some pictures,” Belisle said. “And, I am actually wearing an L.A. Riptide hat that my father found while he was cleaning out a closet. He said maybe I could give it to one of my campers to wear. I told him no way am I giving away my Riptide hat. That was the best logo and colors MLL ever had.”

Belisle, who will turn 33 years old in November, graduated from Cornell in 2007 with a B.S. degree in Industrial and Labor Relations. He was a well-decorated defenseman for the Big Red, winning the William C. Schmeisser Award as Division I Defenseman of the Year. He was a two-time All-American, two-time Academic All-American, two-time All-Ivy performer and was the first winner of the Mario St. George Boiardi Leadership Award in 2007.

Belisle’s professional lacrosse career began in 2007 with the Riptide. He played 155 games in the National Lacrosse League (NLL) beginning with the New York Titans in 2008. He joined the Boston Blazers in 2009 and played six years with the Minnesota/Georgia Swarm. He has made two Team USA appearances, one indoors in 2011 and one field in 2014. He has played for the Boston Cannons from 2009 and is a three-time MLL All-Star.

A partner in Trilogy Lacrosse with two Princeton grads, Ryan Boyle and Matt Striebel, Belisle said that demands on his time and body are reasons for his retirement from playing the sport.

"From the personal side, my wife and I have one baby and another one on the way and work is busy,” Belisle said. “At the same time, I’m 33 years old and guys coming into the league are getting better, stronger and faster. I can feel that I have lost a step or two and I'd rather go out while I still feel like I am playing decent lacrosse rather than slowly fading off into irrelevance.”

Those who know Belisle won’t be surprised that he will donate his final game paycheck to Boston Cannons Fighting Cancer.

“It's the least I can do. The cause is remarkable and what [Cannons president] Ian Frenette and his team have been able to accomplish over the last few years is amazing. I have been lucky to meet some of the families and the heroes that they have celebrated,” Belisle said.

“My wife [Hannah] works at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and knowing just how many families that cancer touches and knowing what a big impact some of these breakthroughs have made is substantial. God forbid my son, or my coming son, were ever in that situation but to know that people are making such efforts to come up with answers so that others don’t have to suffer the same fate is great,” Belisle said.

Breakthrough Advice
Adapting to the speed and skill of the professional game isn’t always a given for former collegiate stars. Consider that the number of MLL players competing in games each weekend is just 152.

“I have been lucky to have had a lot of veterans who have guided and helped shape my career. The very first thing I remember is back when MLL had a rookie combine and I had just finished at Cornell as the nation's top defender. Matt [Streibel] actually coached my team in a scrimmage at the combine and he advised me to try playing some short stick,” Belisle said. “That got me on to the team in L.A. and allowed me to do some other things professionally and in the international game that I don't know if I could have done without his advice.”

While playing in L.A. for two seasons, the Riptide made the playoffs in both and the lessons he learned from veterans like Michael Watson, Spencer Ford and Jesse Hubbard were invaluable.

“In LA, we had such a good veteran group that really cared about each other and cared about being professionals off the field despite traveling six hours every weekend to be at games,” Belisle offered. “It was worth it and it set the tone us. No matter if your flight was delayed or you had other issues. They explained none of it was a big deal, and that we must put up with inconveniences because we love the game and love being a part of the program.”

The Steinfeld Season
Belisle’s career achievements include an indoor title and the Cannons’ MLL Championship in 2011. Both teams were unlikely success stories. Max Quinzani scored with :01 showing on the clock in the semifinals to lead the Cannons to victory after Chesapeake had scored four straight goals to tie the game.

“That 2011 team was special. I think everyone on that team played such specific roles, that even if you look at that team now, you would have never guessed that was a MLL championship team but everyone played their role and played it so well,” Belisle said.

“Quinzani's goal to win it in the semifinals that was such the epitome of our team. It wasn’t pretty. It was kind of a trickler that rolled in five-hole. That was who we were. We just found a way to get it done. Everyone did a great job,” he said.

Kip Turner had been the Cannons’ starting goalie in 2010 but was replaced by Jordan Burke for the majority of 2011 championship season.

After the game, the championship celebration was held at Turner’s home in Annapolis, an example of the selflessness required to win the Steinfeld Trophy.

“That was a true hallmark of that team. Here is a guy [Turner] that started in the beginning of the year. Jordan Burke came in, played great and won the championship. Sitting around that table, I don't think anyone would have traded the way that everything shook out,” Belisle said.

Not That Glamorous
Atlanta Blaze goaltender, Adam Ghitelman, was a teammate of Belisle during the 2015 season. Ghitelman said the defender’s impact goes well beyond the field.

“Mitch is one of the original faceless men of the league. He was a mainstay for the Cannons’ organization and led a number of great defenses. Being a teammate of his, I witnessed the contributions he makes as a leader, of understanding the game, helping develop game plans and taking care of his responsibilities. Those he always did well,” Ghitelman acknowledged. “He also had the ability to keep things light when it was necessary in the locker room for younger guys. He showed us the balance between taking things really seriously, playing tough but also being lighthearted and establishing great friendships off the field.”

Defensive middies and close defenders typically are not MLL icons. Let's face it lacrosse is about scoring goals with highlight-reel goals receiving extra credit and Belisle scored less frequently during his career than the Boston Bruins’ Adam McCabe.

“The joke was when we had Scott Ratliff, Brodie Merrill and other guys that liked to push transition, that if we turned the ball over I would be the only one back in the hole. Being a stay-at-home defenseman, I have never been that glamorous,” Belisle said.

His three career goals all came with the short stick. “One was on a feed from Ryan Boyle in the crease [June 26, 2010 vs. N.Y.], one was from Brent Adams also near the crease [June 23, 2016 vs. Chesapeake] and the third one was against Rochester [August 9, 2014] and we were getting absolutely shellacked. I ran the ball down and shot as hard as I could and scored,” Belisle said. “Michael Manley hit me so hard just after I shot the ball I could barely remember the goal, but when you only have three of them it makes it a little easier.”

Full-Time Advocacy
As one who benefitted from playing in both professional leagues in North America and from a business centered upon the sport, Belisle appreciates its advancements both on and off the field. He reflected on the changes he has witnessed during his career.

“I think the league (MLL) has turned the corner in the last couple of years. I think Commissioner Sandy Brown has done an awesome job upping the level of communication and professionalism to take the league to the next level,” Belisle said.

He has noticed a difference in the players, as well.

“The skill and the talent of the players have always been very high but now it's just unreal. The amount of talent coming out of college lacrosse now is unbelievable. I think that is one big piece of MLL that people can appreciate and have started to notice,” he said.

“The other is the increase of how many guys [that play professionally] are able to do lacrosse full time. When I started playing, there were very few able to earn a livelihood with lacrosse as their full-time job. Now, it may be a third or a half of the guys in the league are finding some way to be able to make lacrosse a full-time occupation, whether it's coaching, running events or doing different things within the sport.”

When he retired from the indoor game after winning the 2017 championship, Belisle took a lap by himself around the arena in Saskatoon. He expects the emotions at Harvard Stadium to be quite a bit different.

“I think it's going to be really special having my last game be at Harvard Stadium. That has been home for 10 years. The fans are unbelievable. The organization is incredible. That place is magical at night,” Belisle said. “I am hopeful to see a lot of familiar faces in the stands. My parents were at the game this past weekend and my in-laws will be there Saturday. I am just excited to be able to cap off a career — that I never expected to have — in a place that I am really lucky to have played in for 10 years,” he said.

By his side will be the only fellow Cornell grad that he has ever played with.

“I've played against quite a few over the years but Max is the only one I have been teammates with. It has been awesome to wrap up my career with him. We’ve had a lot of fun the last couple of years,” Belisle said.