We've done plenty of stories on Jake Allen's goalie masks at stlouisblues.com over the years.
There have been masks that feature intimidating snakes, masks that pay tribute to military veterans, plain white masks and ones that pay tribute to the Blues' rich history and tradition. There's even been one designed by a fan!
But if there was ever a mask that deserved its own story and deserved your attention, it's this one.
For Hockey Fights Cancer Night on Nov. 24, Allen asked his designer, Dave Gunnarsson, to incorporate an image of Mandi Schwartz on his mask. Mandi, who is the sister of Blues forward Jaden Schwartz, passed away in 2011 after a courageous battle with cancer and has inspired countless bone marrow donation drives in her hometown and in various hockey circles.
"I've been fortunate that I haven't had anyone really close to me that has dealt with cancer, but so many other people have," Allen told stlouisblues.com. "I thought it would be nice to help a teammate out. I never got to meet Mandi, but I've heard all the great things Jaden says about her, and she obviously means a great deal to him. Putting Mandi on the mask was just an easy, simple thing to do."
Allen approached Jaden with the idea when they were both guests at former teammate Kevin Shattenkirk's wedding last summer.
"It was Jake's idea, and Jake and his wife, Shannon, came and talked to me about it. I was pretty excited and pretty honored," Jaden said. "It was special that he thought of that, and seeing it now, they did a pretty cool job.
"Jake knows our family pretty well, and he knows our story," Jaden added. "It's pretty special that he's doing that to support Mandi and our family. Obviously she had a big impact on me and our family and lots of other people. It's hard to put into words, really, but it's cool to see the impact she had."
Allen's Hockey Fights Cancer mask is similar, at least in design, to his current one. Although it's painted entirely in a shade of lavender - the Hockey Fights Cancer color - it still features a Blue Note on top along with the team's trumpet logo of the 1990s on each side. Just above the left temple, though, is the image of Mandi, smiling and wearing her Yale hockey jersey. The "Mandi 17" logo, which was designed by Stephen Keaney, is painted alongside Mandi with the phrase "Luctor Et Emergo," which is Latin for "Struggle But Emerge."
That was Mandi's favorite saying.
"Mandi being painted on a goalie mask is to me, the coolest thing in hockey," Jaden's father, Rick Schwartz, told stlouisblues.com. "Goalie masks are the best piece of equipment out there next to a jersey, and I think that's why kids want to be goalies now, because of the masks. Ever since Gerry Cheevers painted stitches on his mask in the 1960s, ever since then, goalies have painted things on their masks and every one of them tells a story. It's pretty cool to know the story that this mask is going to have with Mandi being painted on it."
"It just means a lot," added Jaden's mother, Carol Schwartz. "I think if Mandi's story helps somebody understand how important fundraising and finding cures are, then we're honored that she can help spread the word. (Supporting causes like this is) all near and dear to our heart. We know loss, we know suffering and we know it's never easy, but when everybody pulls together to support things like this, it's truly a blessing. You have to be thankful for that, and we're very, very thankful that Jake chose Mandi for his mask, because there are other great people out there that have been through what we've been through, and they all deserve mention."
Allen's tribute is about more than just about supporting a teammate. It's also about supporting a close friend.
Allen has grown close with the Schwartz family over the years. Back in his midget and bantam hockey days, Allen actually played against Rylan Schwartz, Jaden's brother. They played again in high school, and soon after Allen and Jaden were drafted by the Blues, they became teammates with the Peoria Rivermen - the Blues' AHL affiliate at the time. About four years ago, Allen joined the Schwartz family for a boating trip on Shuswap Lake in British Columbia.
"When we went on the boat trip, that's when I really got to know Jake," Rick said. "I know what kind of guy he is, so when he asked our permission to have Mandi on his mask, it was just an honor."
The Blues are supporting Siteman Cancer Center, the American Cancer Society, Friends of Kids with Cancer, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the National Children's Cancer Society through various fundraisers throughout the month of November in support of Hockey Fights Cancer. The Blues will hold a Be The Match bone marrow drive on Nov. 19, and players will wear special jerseys honoring former players who have fought cancer at the Nov. 24 game vs. Winnipeg.
Allen's mask will be auctioned at a later date, with proceeds benefitting Hockey Fights Cancer and the Mandi Schwartz Foundation.
"Without knowing her, she must have had a great presence, and she must have been very well respected throughout her life and her college hockey career," Allen said of Mandi. "She must have done a great deal to represent herself that people are still talking about her to this day and doing fundraisers in her name. It goes to show what kind of person she was."
"Mandi was pretty humble, but obviously she meant the world to us," Jaden said. "She was a very dedicated person and she worked hard. Everyone learned a lot from how she handled herself and how she worked. I don't know exactly what she would think about being on Jake's mask, but I think she'd be pretty honored."
Learn more about the Blues' Hockey Fights Cancer initiatives throughout the month of November by visiting stlouisblues.com/HFC. Visit mandi17.org to learn more about the Mandi Schwartz Foundation.