When the Yale women’s hockey team hosts Harvard this evening, the contest will hold more significance than the usual match-up between the ancient rivals.
Tonight’s game is the annual White Out for Mandi Schwartz, a charity event put on by the current members of the team to honor former Yale hockey player Mandi Schwartz ’10 and the Mandi Schwartz Foundation, which Schwartz’s teammates founded to honor her legacy.
“It’s a lot of work,” forward Courtney Pensavalle ’18 said. “There are a lot of moving parts, but it’s all for a good cause. It’s a good thing for our team in general, and for raising awareness about hockey through volunteering and our passion for Mandi and keeping her legacy alive.”
The purpose of tonight’s game is twofold — to raise awareness about the need for bone marrow and umbilical cord donors and to raise funds for the Mandi Schwartz Foundation.
Schwartz, a native of Saskatchewan, Canada played as a forward for the Bulldogs until she received a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia in late 2008. She was a critical part of the Elis’ offense, playing 73 straight games until her cancer diagnosis. She grew up playing hockey and had two brothers, Jaden and Rylan, who both played hockey for Colorado College. Jaden is now a member of the St. Louis Blues in the National Hockey League.
After receiving her diagnosis, Schwartz underwent successful chemotherapy, exercising even while hospitalized, and eventually returned to the ice for the Bulldogs for the 2009–10 season. But a checkup in April of 2010 found that the cancer had returned and that she would need a bone marrow or stem cell donation.
In response, her teammates and friends mounted a cheek-swabbing campaign at Yale, and in several Canadian cities, to find a matching marrow donor. Although the drives turned up no match for Schwartz, who died in April 2011, Yale continues to host annual Mandi Schwartz Marrow Donor Registration Drives, which to date have identified at least 21 matches for patients in need of bone marrow transplants.
“Mandi’s legacy runs deep within the Yale Women’s Ice Hockey program,” Aleca Hughes ’12 said, who is one of the originators of the foundation. “She was the embodiment of a loyal and selfless teammate while she was healthy, and her fight against AML further exemplified the strength of her character. The essence of Mandi was truly tangible for all who were lucky enough to know her as a teammate and friend.”
Hughes founded the Mandi Schwartz Foundation to support youth hockey players with life-threatening conditions. For her work with the initiative, she was named a finalist of the Hockey Humanitarian Award in 2011, and then won the award the following year. Hughes, along with fellow teammate Bray Ketchum ’11 still sit on the foundation’s board. The remaining members of the board are Schwartz’s parents Rick and Carol Schwartz, former Yale men’s hockey player Brennan Turner ’09 and Assistant Director of Yale Sports Publicity Sam Rubin ’95.
Each year, the game is organized by a small committee made up of the team’s current players. Pensavalle, this year’s lead coordinator, has also been nominated for the Hockey Humanitarian Award. The award recognizes NCAA Division I or III hockey players, male or female, for philanthropic efforts.
“There’s a lot of work leading up to the event,” head coach Joakim Flygh said. “It’s neat to see how our kids embrace it, and our [alumnae] do a great job coming back here and telling Mandi’s story. Her story ties into our players that are here now. Mandi’s locker is still in our locker room.”
Last year’s game proved to a be critical success. The Elis defeated the visiting Crimson 3–2 in a thrilling match that raised $5,000 for the foundation. Yale will look to follow up last year’s positives on and off the ice.
In the lead-up to the game, the team has sold white beanies for the white-out, used social media to reach greater audiences and organized scrimmages with youth teams to expand community involvement in the event. It has also partnered with the National Women’s Hockey League. Tonight’s game will further raise funds for the foundation through the sale of merchandise and raffle tickets. Prizes for the raffle, which will take place between the second and third periods, include hockey memorabilia, gift cards and game tickets.
“[This game] always reminds us to be grateful and to continue to raise money and awareness for those suffering from leukemia and other long-term illnesses,” defender Mallory Souliotis ’18 said.
The puck drops at 6 p.m. on Friday at Ingalls Rink.
Angela Xiao | firstname.lastname@example.org