Sunday, 12 October 2014

His Heart On His Sleeve

I caught part of the game between the Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues last night. Overall, the Blues looked like they had things well in-hand when I tuned in, but I rarely get to see them play so I wanted to watch them for a bit. I was watching systems and line combinations, but there was one number that looked distinctly out of place when I was watching. #17 for the Blues was a new number, but a familiar face.

I'd hope that you're aware Mandi Schwartz and her battle with acute myeloid leukemia. Mandi lost that battle in April 2011 at the tender age of 23 after an aggressive relapse. This will be the third Canadian Thanksgiving that the Schwartzes are without Mandi, and I cannot even begin to understand that pain they must feel. What I do know is that Mandi is not forgotten by any of the Schwartzes, especially her brother and St. Louis Blues player Jaden Schwartz.

Mandi wore #17 at Yale University where she was a standout hockey player. Mandi had been on Hockey Canada's radar for some time as a player, and it was expected that she would join Team Canada as soon as Hockey Canada deemed her ready. Obviously, leukemia destroyed that dream, but Jaden decided to honor his sister in the best way he could: he's wearing her number this season. Jaden took to the ice in St. Louis' opening game against the New York Rangers and scored his first goal of the season in his new number - a perfect tribute to the player he looked up to a youngster.

Jaden spoke with Upper Deck about his reasons for switching numbers this season, what it means to him as a tribute to his sister, and the relationship the two had. It's a pretty interesting article based on Jaden's responses, but it's clear that he loved his sister and misses her still today.

"I watched Mandi play hockey her entire life and I always noticed how hard she worked and how dedicated she was," Jaden said. "She always wanted to get better and improve, I really looked up to her. I'm extremely excited to wear number 17 for her, it will be emotional but a special moment for me and my family."

Growing up in Wilcox, Saskatchewan, the two siblings would often square off at the local rink or the backyard rink in an effort to determine which Schwartz kid was better. When asked if Mandi helped Jaden on the technical parts of his game, he saw it differently.

"Mandi always helped me whether she knew it or not," he said. "I always admired how focused and determined she was. She helped me in school when I needed it and she helped me in hockey, but I always learned from her by just watching and being around her."

When asked about the significance of wearing #17, Jaden spoke of family. "Mandi wore number 17 for a long time in hockey, including Notre Dame and Yale," he said. "When my brother Rylan and I were growing up we wore number 17. Mandi switched and decided to wear it as well because she was our biggest fan and wanted to be like us."

Clearly, #17 is going to have a big impact on the ice this season just as #17 has impacted Jaden Schwartz for what it means to him. Mandi has a huge impact on Jaden growing up, and Mandi won't be forgotten as long as Jaden continues to wear her number.

He's clearly wearing his heart on sleeve this season.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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