St. Louis Blues forward Jaden Schwartz never did get an opportunity to visit the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Conn., where his older sister starred for the women's hockey team for three seasons.
That was before she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in December 2008. Mandi Schwartz lost her 27-month battle with cancer in April 2011; she passed away in the presence of family and friends, including her mother Carol, father Rick, and brothers Jaden and Rylan.
"Mandi never gave up," Jaden said of his sister. "She inspired me a lot and I learned a lot from her. Before she got sick, I wasn't really aware of cancer or knew a lot about it, but when something like that happens you learn a lot and want to do things to help whenever you can."
The 2010 first-round draft pick will finally get that chance on Friday when he is accompanied by Blues' teammates and the coaching staff at the annual "White Out for Mandi" game at Ingalls Rink on Yale's campus at 7 p.m. ET.
Emotions are sure to be high when Jaden enters the rink and begins walking the corridors. The women's hockey team has kept Mandi's jersey and stall intact in the locker room at the rink. Additionally, there is a display of Yale women's hockey memorabilia at the front of Ingalls Rink that includes a photo of Mandi with her Yale hockey classmates, a Yale Daily News from after she passed away, and Aleca Hughes' 2012 Hockey Humanitarian Award.
Hughes, Mandi's close friend and teammate, helped spearhead efforts to raise awareness for bone marrow and cord blood donors, in addition to raising funds for the Schwartz family. She organized a bone marrow donor drive and "Goals for Mandi" fundraiser that helped raise more than $5,800. She also helped organize the inaugural "White Out for Mandi" on Nov. 12, 2010, which raised more than $15,500.
The "White Out for Mandi," during which everyone in attendance wears white shirts or apparel, serves as a fundraiser for the Mandi Schwartz Foundation. The foundation seeks to honor Mandi's life and legacy by helping others in her name.
"I think it's going to be good for our players to see how much Mandi meant to that [Yale] program because she meant a ton to that program," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I think that it'll be a real eye-opener for our players just to see how much she and her family meant."
Jaden acknowledged he first thought about attending the "White Out" when he looked at the schedule and noticed St. Louis would be on the East Coast during the event. He discussed it with his parents, who thought it a great idea, and began planning the day.
"When I found out about the 'White Out' through Jaden and his parents, it sounded like a no-brainer for the organization to attend," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "Once everyone found out about it, it became apparent everyone wanted to support Jaden and his family in a great cause. If we can draw a little bit of attention to the charity, the better off it is."
The Blues will hold a public practice session at 3 p.m. ET on Friday before going out for a team meal and then returning to Ingalls Rink for the "White Out for Mandi." The team will stay for half of the first period as Yale plays Brown before bussing to Long Island. The Blues are scheduled to face the New York Islanders on Saturday afternoon at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y.
"It means more to our family than anyone will ever realize," Jaden Schwartz said.
Schwartz admitted that, to this day, he still wears little reminders of his sister during every game and will continue to do so. He preferred not to share what exactly those items were.
"A lot of people have reached out and helped us; it's the hardest thing a person can go through so the more support you get, it makes it a little bit easier," Jaden said. "It was nice knowing right from the get-go that the Blues were there for us. It's special that the whole team is coming out to support the event. They've had a few 'White Out' events, but I've never been to one so I'm pretty excited to go and support it. It means a lot to me and my family to know that everyone is going."
Schwartz, of Wilcox, Saskatchewan, was first diagnosed with cancer just days after assisting the Yale women's hockey team to a 4-1 win over Brown during the first semester of her junior year with the Bulldogs. She underwent five rounds of chemotherapy and 130 days in the hospital in an attempt to put the cancer back in remission. On Jan. 8, 2010, she returned to Yale for the spring semester and had every intention of rejoining the team for the 2010-11 season. In April, however, she learned the cancer had returned.
In mid-October 2010, four weeks after undergoing a 32-minute stem-cell transplant at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, tests indicated the birth of a new immune system was under way. The Sept. 22 transplant utilized stem cells from two umbilical cord blood units donated anonymously to public cord blood banks.
Unfortunately, only two months later, results of a biopsy indicated a relapse for a third time.
"You become very close with the families of the players you draft and we spent some time with Jaden and his brother and parents at Colorado College," Armstrong said. "We didn't pry too deep into what was going on but were aware of Mandi's situation. Her unfortunate passing brought more attention to the disease for us internally, and we've just tried to be there to support Jaden and his family whenever possible. They are a very private and strong family, and when we found out about the "White Out for Mandi," it was important for us to be a small part of it."
The attendance record for a women's hockey game at Ingalls Rink is 1,539, set on Nov. 1, 2005, when the United States women's national team played an exhibition game against the ECAC Hockey All-Stars. The rink's capacity is 3,500.