With the news that William Nylander would be switching his jersey number to 88 in the upcoming season, a number of our staff writers have decided to take a look at other major number changes.
For Jaden Schwartz of the St. Louis Blues, that story involves a family tragedy. But it also involves a commitment to honoring the legacy of a tremendous hockey player, and making sure that her death, though tragic, will serve as a catalyst to fill the world with her light.
The Schwartz Family
Rick and Carol Schwartz of Wilcox, Saskatchewan had three children who loved the game of hockey. Mandi, the oldest, was born in 1988, followed by Rylan, followed by Jaden. All three would become terrific hockey players.
Mandi played her minor hockey at Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in the family’s home town, where she would eventually become captain. That team won the Saskatchewan provincial championship three times. She helped her home province capture bronze at the 2003 Canada Games, and went on to play for the Yale Bulldogs in New Haven, CT, playing in 73 consecutive games before illness forced her to stop.
Rylan had an impressive career with the Notre Dame Hounds of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League before attending Colorado College, where he would later be joined by Jaden. He got some chances in the AHL with the Worcester Sharks before going on to the ECHL. He is now playing in Germany.
Jaden also spent a season with the Hounds before moving onto the Tri-City Storm of the USHL. It was there that the Blues noticed him, drafting him 14th overall in 2010. He then played college hockey with his brother for two seasons. Jaden played his first NHL games in the 2011-12 season, debuting with the number 9. He would wear that number until the start of the 2014-15 season.
Mandi was beginning her junior season at Yale when she started to feel fatigued. She played in 11 games, but only tallied one assist. Her endurance faltered, despite the fact that she seemed to be in terrific shape. She visited a doctor and, after an initial wrongful diagnosis of anemia, she was given more crushing news: she had acute myeloid leukemia.
The then 20-year-old fought the vicious disease for three years. She sought a bone marrow donor but could not find one. An alternative treatment gave her a brief remission in 2010, before she was told that the cancer had returned. It was then that Mandi decided to discontinue her treatment and seek palliative care. She passed away on April 3, 2011.
Mandi’s passing was not the end of her legacy. Because of her brave fight, Yale University began an annual bone marrow drive on campus. The Mandi Schwartz Foundation was established “to honor Mandi’s life and legacy by helping others in her name.” Her high school, Athol Murray College, established a women’s hockey tournament that bears her name, now known as the biggest women’s hockey tournament in western Canada.
The odds of finding a leukemia donor match are incredibly rare, which is why it is critical to register as many potential donors as possible. In its first drive, Yale registered 1600 potential donors, and found 28 matches. With the Schwartz’s help, the Blues’ blood donor drive has found matches as well, like the touching story of Michael and Regan.
Jaden Takes #17
Throughout her hockey career, Mandi had worn the number 17. It is the number that graces the logo of the foundation, the number that student athletes at Yale still wear to honor her during their annual bone marrow drive. And, since 2014, it’s the number that her younger brother Jaden wears on the ice every night.
“Mandi never gave up,” Schwartz told NHL.com at the time. “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.”
Now, every time Schwartz takes the ice, he carries a little piece of Mandi with him. She was there when he scored the unlikely game winner in the final seconds of Game 5 against the Winnipeg Jets. She was there the next night when he scored a hat trick on home ice to seal the series. She was there almost a month later, when he did it again against the San Jose Sharks. And she was certainly there yet another month later, when he became, ironically, the ninth player to ever hoist the Stanley Cup while wearing a Blues jersey.
Mandi may be gone, but her legacy lives on. Her light continues to shine in the Mandi Schwartz Foundation. Her light continues to shine on the campus of Yale. And her light most certainly continues to shine not only on the back and shoulders of her brother’s sweater, but in the hearts and minds of all that knew and loved her.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.