Blues will be there when Yale honors Schwartz's sister

New York TimesJanuary 23, 2014 

On their day off Friday during a road trip to face the New York area NHL teams, the St. Louis Blues will not be sightseeing.

Instead they will be New Haven, Conn., to support the family of teammate Jaden Schwartz, whose sister, Mandi, played hockey at Yale before she died in 2011 of acute myeloid leukemia at age 23.

"We're in New York and a lot of guys have things to do, but we're glad that everyone's making it out," Schwartz said. "My family, it means more to us than anyone will probably realize."

The Blues will spend Friday at Yale's Ingalls Rink to take part in a benefit to raise money for the foundation that bears Mandi Schwartz's name. Their practice, at 3 p.m., will be open to the public, and they plan to be on hand at night when the Yale women's team plays Brown in a game that has been designated a White Out for Mandi.

The Blues have consistently been among the NHL's top five teams in points this season as they aim to return to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1970. They are sending 10 players to the Olympics, tied for the most from any team in the league.

But no matter what else happens this season, what they do at Yale on Friday will be among their proudest moments.

"I think it's really important," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "As much as Jaden and his family mean to our team, it's the least we can do."

"We have a team that's really gracious that way," he added.

Schwartz, 21, who is thriving in his second full season with the Blues with 16 goals and 18 assists, said the initial idea was to drive up to New Haven with a handful of teammates.

"I talked to a few guys and a few of us planned on going, just maybe a van, five or six, but it kind of escalated," he said.

Soon Doug Armstrong, the general manager, decided the entire team should go.

"We're going definitely for the cause, but also just to be there for Jaden," said Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who grew up in Greenwich, Conn. "We don't want him to be alone in that. He comes from a great family, and I have a couple friends who played at Yale with Mandi and only spoke great things of her."

Schwartz will now have plenty of company for his first visit to the place where his sister played and inspired so many.

"Yale's a pretty big school," said Schwartz, who is from Saskatchewan, played at Colorado College and is making his first trip to the New York metropolitan area as a pro. "I've actually never been there, so I'm excited to see it."

Mandi Schwartz grew up playing hockey with her brothers, Jaden and Rylan, 24, a forward in Massachusetts with the Worcester Sharks of the American Hockey League. She went to Yale and played 73 consecutive games as a forward. But in fall 2008, her junior year, she started to struggle with fatigue.

That December she learned she had leukemia. She left the team, undergoing extensive chemotherapy, bone marrow biopsies and spinal taps during five months of hospitalization. She was given a clean bill of health in January 2010 and, 13 months after leaving, resumed practices with the team.

But in April the cancer returned. Registry drives were held at Yale to find her a suitable donor for a bone-marrow transplant, and soon similar drives were taking place for her. None was found, and after a stem-cell transplant using umbilical-cord blood only briefly put the cancer in remission, she died in April 2011.

"She never gave up. She inspired me a lot," said Jaden, who said he wears certain things to remind him of her every time he plays, but preferred to keep to himself exactly what they are.

"Before she got sick I wasn't really aware of cancer, I didn't really know a lot about it," he said. "I hope this will raise awareness because you never know. This could save someone's life who's sick."

There have been three previous White Out games for Mandi, in which fans are encouraged to wear white and donate to the foundation. They have been organized by Yale and by Mandi's parents, Rick and Carol Schwartz, who will be at Ingalls on Friday.

Various donor registry drives conducted in Mandi's name have helped more than 20 people in need of marrow and stem-cell transplants find donors, said Aleca Hughes, a former Yale captain and teammate of Mandi's.

"It's such a generous thing to do," Hughes said of the Blues' gesture. "I can only imagine how much it means to Jaden and Rick and Carol and Rylan."

Today, with the Blues' help, Yale hockey is hoping the biggest crowd in the history of the women's program will turn out for the fourth White Out for Mandi. Jaden Schwartz said his sister would have liked the entire scene.

"I think she'd be happy," he said.

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