December 6, 2018 7:11 pm
Updated: December 6, 2018 7:27 pm

Schwartz’s legacy lives on at Western Canada’s biggest female hockey tournament

WATCH: The puck has dropped for the largest female hockey tournament in Western Canada. Hundreds of players have flocked to Wilcox, Sask. for a chance to seal their future in the sport, and honour a local legend gone too soon.

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The next four days could decide the future of Western Canada’s top female midget AAA hockey players.

16 teams will battle through 40 games at Notre Dame’s Duncan McNeill arena looking to snag first place, and the attention of scouts.

“If teams don’t get in, they’re pretty disappointed,” Notre Dame director of hockey Jeremy Mylymok said. “The turnout for college coaches – NCAA, U Sports, Hockey Canada – it’s a lot of exposure.

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While the famed contest in Wilcox has been around for nearly two decades, it’s bears the name of a beloved former player since 2011; the Mandi Schwartz Memorial Tournament.

WATCH: Mandi Schwartz Memorial Tournament

“She was the quietest, meekest girl,” Notre Dame teacher Janice Rumpel said with a smile. “Then you put her on the ice and a switch went off. It was fire and intensity.”

The late older sister of NHL-er Jaden Schwartz was recruited to play for the Yale Bulldogs and Team Canada camps after lighting up the tournament in the early 2000s.

“Mandi would dominate,” Schwartz’s Yale coach Harry Rosenholtz recalled. “There were very few players that had her hockey IQ. She could make plays and see plays developing that no one else could see.”

“She cared so much about her teammates,” Her father, Rick Schwartz, said. “She was happier for her teammates even if she scored. It brought out the best in her. She was so happy.”

But in 2008, Schwartz was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in the midst of her junior year.

“I’ve always thought of Mandi as the female Terry Fox,”Rosenholtz said. “This is someone who used to go to chemo to fight leukemia, and after her chemo session she would get on an exercise bike and she would cycle kilometre after kilometre. She fought tooth and nail.”

In the wake of her diagnosis, thousands rallied around Schwartz by attending bone marrow drives at Yale University and in Saskatchewan. While no match was ultimately found for her, the drives resulted in six life-saving matches being found.

“More than 6,000 freshmen at Yale have registered,” Rick Schwartz added. “Out of that 6,000, 35 lives have been saved and it’s climbing all the time.”

READ MORE: Family of Mandi Schwartz connecting donors with stem cell network

“There’s no feeling as special as knowing you saved a life. Mandi was part of that.”

After receiving some treatment and returning to Yale, Mandi received a stem cell transplant in September of 2010. Months later, she learned that the cancer had returned. Mandi passed away on April 3, 2011 at the age of 23.

Seven years after her death, her name is everywhere at the Notre Dame campus- whether its on a bursary, a tournament banner, or on the lips of family, friends and a new generation of players.

Rick and Carol Schwartz will participate in a ceremonial puck drop at the Duncan McNeill at 8:30 Thursday night. The tournament will wrap up with a final on Sunday, Dec. 9.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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