Mandi never far from Schwartz family's heart
By Vicki Hall, Calgary Herald; Postmedia News
December 11, 2011
As a student at Notre Dame College in Wilcox, Sask., Jaden Schwartz dutifully learned the school mottoes of "struggle and emerge" and "never lose heart."
Little did he realize what those words would come to mean.
"They come into play in hockey and life in general," Schwartz said Saturday, sticks in hand at the Calgary International Airport in preparation for the first day of Team Canada's junior team selection camp. "Struggle and emerge, that's big. And never lose heart. You never want to give up.
"You always want to keep fighting."
Schwartz and his family fight each day through the pain of losing a sister and daughter to cancer on April 3. Mandi Schwartz, a hockey player at Yale University, was 23.
Mandi's baby brother Jaden is the favourite to serve as captain for Canada at the 2012 world junior hockey championship Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Edmonton and Calgary.
"I've got butterflies, even more than last year," Jaden said, sounding older and wiser than his 19 years. "I'm extremely lucky and fortunate to get a second opportunity to be here.
"It's a short camp. First impressions are huge. You want to get off to a good start, but you've just got to control it. You just have to go out there and play your game and have fun."
And never lose heart.
Looking back, Jaden's dad Rick Schwartz can hardly fathom the blur that was the 2011 world juniors.
"It just seemed like the world was falling down on our heads," he said. "I look back and I don't even know how we did it - how we survived all those ups and downs."
The bad news came in waves. First, before departing for Upstate New York, the family learned that Mandi's cancer had returned some three months after she had received a cord blood transplant at the University of Washington Medical Centre.
In spite of the devastating development - at Mandi's assistance - Rick and his wife Carol flew to Buffalo to watch their youngest son represent Canada on the ultimate stage. Other family members stayed behind with Mandi in Seattle where she cheered Jaden on via television.
A first-round entry draft pick (14th overall) of the NHL's St. Louis Blues, Jaden is a natural playmaker, an excellent skater with tremendous scoring touch. In 23 games last season at Colorado College, he registered 13 goals and 33 points playing with older brother Rylan.
At the world juniors, Jaden skated on the first line with Brayden Schenn and Louis Leblanc.
"Jaden has tremendous vision," said fellow Team Canada prospect Ryan Murray, a defenceman expected to go in the top-five in the 2012 entry draft. "He can see the ice better than anyone I've ever known.
"He's an amazing player."
In the second game against the Czech Republic, an opposing player rolled on Jaden's ankle. Clearly in agony, Jaden paced back and forth behind the bench, attempting to walk it off.
Fuelled by adrenalin, he returned to the ice a few shifts later and scored on the power play. An MRI the next day confirmed the broken ankle.
He watched the rest of the tournament on crutches. Hockey Canada offered to send Jaden home to Wilcox to be with his sister.
Mandi scoffed at the idea. She ordered her little brother to stay with his teammates.There would be plenty of time to catch up later.
And then, on Jan. 3, Rick's cellphone beeped with a message that changed his life: "Doctors say there is nothing more they can do."
On Jan. 5, the Canadian kids coughed up a 3-0 lead in the third period of the championship match and fell 5-3 to Russia. One commentator described the loss as the biggest ever for Canada in international hockey. The word 'choke' was thrown around liberally.
To Rick, none of that mattered. He just wanted to get home to Mandi.
The next day, Jaden and Rick touched down at the Regina International Airport. Jaden hobbled over to his sister and draped the silver medal around her neck.
"She's on my mind every day," Jaden said Saturday. "You can't stop thinking about her. She was there for me so much. She inspires me every day still. Not a day goes by when I don't think about her.
"Everything I do is for her."
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