Young Kentville hockey player returns to ice after serious head injury

Rylee Bennett's brain was bleeding after she crashed head first into the boards in a game in March.  (James Pomeroy - image credit)
Rylee Bennett's brain was bleeding after she crashed head first into the boards in a game in March. (James Pomeroy - image credit)

March 6, 2022. It's a day Rylee Bennett can only remember parts of.

She remembers playing in a playoff game in Windsor, N.S., with her Halifax Western Capital U18 teammates. But she can't remember how the game ended for her.

Bennett, who was 16 at the time, fell hard into the boards. Her helmet, which broke, took all of the impact as her head hit the top of the boards.

"I kind of remember letting out a scream when I got hurt and our trainer rushing over, but I don't remember anything after that because I passed out," Bennett said in an interview before a team practice in Bedford.

"I just remember waking up in the hospital and I had no idea what was going on."

Paul Palmeter/CBC
Paul Palmeter/CBC

Bennett had suffered a serious head injury. Her brain was bleeding and beginning to swell.

The event was horrifying for her teammates and her coach, who just happens to be her father.

"Once we understood the severity of the accident, the whole day was a bit of a blur for our family," said Kevin Bennett. "Between leaving the rink and getting to the hospital and dealing with all the possibilities that were put in front of us, it was a very long 24 hours."

Doctors were considering performing brain surgery, but fortunately the swelling around the young hockey player's brain started to recede. Her first day at the hospital is something she'll never forget.

"I was just laying in the bed in a terrible amount of pain. It was very overwhelming," said the teen, who lives in Kentville and is now a Grade 12 student at Northeast Kings Education Centre.

"Every minute, I was just waiting for the doctors to come walking through the door and tell me if I'm going to need surgery or not and would I be able to play hockey again, which was a terrifying feeling."

A slow recovery

Even after recovery, serious head trauma can often have lingering effects. Bennett was told to take things extremely slowly when she was sent back to her home in the Annapolis Valley. She could not return to school right away, and even the simplest of tasks were difficult.

"She still had double vision in one eye, so she wasn't seeing well and her mobility wasn't great," said her father. "She was released to go home to just rest and sleep, and the neurologist gave us a long list of things not to do."

While she was determined to get back on the ice with her team in the fall, she knew rushing back into it was not the way to go.

"At first I wasn't allowed to get my heart rate up past a certain point," said Bennett. "Running was not allowed in the  beginning — nothing that involved bouncing in regards to my head."

James Pomeroy
James Pomeroy

Bennett was skating lightly on her own when the Capitals got back on the ice for the beginning of the 2022-23 season, but she could not take part in team drills. She missed the first few games of the season, but she was gradually picking up her pace at practice.

Seven and a half months after her devastating injury, she was finally given the green light to play in a game.

"That was awesome because it didn't feel like it was ever going to happen," said Bennett. "I honestly didn't think it was going to be possible with all the emotions that I was feeling."

1st comeback goal

Bennett said it was very surreal to be back on the ice and playing in a game. She reached another milestone on Oct. 30 when she scored her first goal since her comeback.

"I can't put into words what she went through," said Sarah MacDonnell, Capitals assistant coach. "We're just so proud of her resilience."

Bennett's teammates, who supported her all the way through her ordeal, were thrilled to have her back on the ice and in uniform.

"She's very strong and relentless and never gives up," said Samantha Taylor, team captain. "We definitely had her back and supported her along the way."

Bennett said the support of her team helped her pull through a very dark phase.

"I don't know what I would have done if they weren't there for me," she said. "They just made me feel I could get through it when there were times when I didn't feel I could."