Schwartz plays through adversity

Jaden Schwartz practises during national junior team development camp with Canada's Team White at...

Jaden Schwartz practises during national junior team development camp with Canada's Team White at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alta., on Wednesday. (LAURA PEDERSEN/QMI Agency)

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:46 AM ET

EDMONTON - As a returning player, Jaden Schwartz already had plenty of motivation heading into Hockey Canada’s national junior evaluation camp.

Suffering a broken ankle two games into last year’s world junior tournament, then watching his team lose to the Russians in the gold-medal final cut deep.

Yet it was nothing compared to losing his older sister Mandi to acute myeloid leukemia in April. She was 23.

“Hockey was a big part of our family and a big part of Madi’s life, too,” Schwartz said. “Every chance she got, she was on the ice working on things. She always told me she didn’t want me to get distracted. She wanted me to focus on my game, no matter how she was feeling or what she was going through. She always told me to go out there and have fun and enjoy things and do what you love to do.”

Schwartz, 19, is dedicating everything he does on the ice this upcoming season to the memory of his sister.

Mandi Schwartz played hockey with the Yale Bulldogs until diagnosed with leukemia in December 2008.

Schwartz and his family helped raised awareness of bone marrow and stem cell transplants while trying to find a donor for her. She died following a third relapse of the cancer.

“She was the best sister in the world, it’s tough to describe,” Schwartz said. “She meant everything to me. She’s a caring person, she cared about everyone else before herself and she was one of the hardest workers I ever met. Words are tough to describe her.”

It was a long, tough battle for Mandi, but hockey helped provide an escape for the entire family.

“Hockey was big, it kind of frees your mind and it gives you some time alone and lets you have some fun,” Schwartz said. “She always told me to do it and it was always good to get away for a while, get on the ice and do something that you love to do.”

A native of Emerald Park, Sask., Schwartz is using the memory of his sister as extra motivation in attempting to lead Canada back to the gold-medal game where they will try to win the tournament on home ice, having falling short the previous two years.

The five-foot-10, 184-pound winger is one of six returning players attending the summer evaluation camp this week at Rexall Place.

“For me, it’s a huge honour being back here and I’m not going to change a whole lot from what I did last year,” Schwartz said. “I think I made the team for a reason last year and I’m going to stick to the same role and do a similar thing.

“I think maybe I can take a bit more of a leadership role this year. I know being a first-year guy last year, the older guys helped me out and I’m kind of looking to do a similar thing this year.”

Selected by the St. Louis Blues in the first round — 14th overall — of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Schwartz will be heading into his second year at Colorado College.

Last season he had 30 goals and 17 assists in 30 games leading all NCAA freshman on his way to team MVP honours.

“He’s a tremendous young man, and obviously he’s gone through a lot of adversity,” said Hockey Canada head scout Kevin Prendergast. “He’s handled it well and he understands life and what it’s all about. Hockey is just fun for him. He’s a great leader around here with the kids. Hopefully he’ll still be healthy when it comes time to pick the team in December.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

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