The University of Regina Cougars women’s hockey team got some pre-season preparation from Sept. 21-23 when they hosted the second annual Mandi Schwartz Challenge at the Co-operators Centre.
The six-team tournament – hosted by The Cougars and the Saskatchewan Hockey Association (SHA) – is held in memory of Saskatchewan hockey player Mandi Schwartz, who passed away in 2010 after a long battle with Leukemia.
“Mandi was somebody who played with the Sask First program for four years, and played with many of our players, so we thought it would be a nice tribute to bring some attention to her battle,” said Cougars head coach Sarah Hodges.
Throughout the three-day tournament, donations were collected to go towards the Mandi Schwartz Foundation.
Part of the funds raised will go towards leukemia research, and the rest towards a bursary in Schwartz’s name at Notre Dame College – where she played hockey and graduated in 2006.
After graduation, Schwartz went on to play for the Yale University Bulldogs.
In 2008, during her junior year at Yale, she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia – an aggressive cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
She passed away two years later at the age of 23.
Kelsie Graham, a Cougars hockey alumnus who now works with the SHA, described Scwhartz as a “great person – very kind, very endearing.”
Graham first played with Schwartz in 2005 on Team Saskatchewan.
According to Graham, naming the tournament after Schwartz was an easy decision.
“Mandi is an inspiration to all of us,” she said. “Most of us have played with her, and she’s a well known female hockey player from the province, so that’s how we came to that conclusion.”
Hodges also knew Schwartz, having coached her when she played for the Saskatchewan U-18 team.
“Mandi is an inspiration to all of us.” – Kelsie Graham
“She was in Grade 12 when I coached her, and she was our best player, but also really quiet,” Hodges said. “She was a really hard working kid, loved hockey – very dedicated and also very humble.”
Besides honouring Schwartz’s memory, the tournament also serves as a good measuring stick for CIS teams.
This year’s Challenge featured four CIS teams – Regina, Manitoba, BC and Saskatchewan – along with two U-18 squads.
“For us, it’s a great pre-season test to see where we’re at, and I think most of the CIS schools approach it the same way,” Hodges said. “The other good thing about it is it’s a good opportunity for us to see players at the under 18 age. It’s really important for CIS coaches to see where those kids are at, and get an opportunity to do a little recruiting too.”
The pre-season competition is important for new and old players alike.
“It’s really the first exhibition opportunity we’ve had,” Hodges said. “These are the first CIS games that we’ve played, so for our new players it’s the first opportunity to play at that level, so they’re definitely nervous…I think it’s just about getting some of the rust off, showing their coaching staffs what they can do, and getting introduced to CIS hockey.”
During the tournament, the U of R Cougars had a 1-2 record, beating UBC 3-2 on Friday night but losing their next two games to the University of Manitoba and the Team Saskatchewan Under-18 squad.
Despite the disappointing outcome of the Challenge, Hodges said she’s confident that this year’s team will find success.
“We’re off to a good start,” she said. “We’ve got a good crop of rookies and solid leadership with our fifth-year players, so I think it looks pretty good.”
For more information on Mandi Scwhartz, or to donate to the Mandi Schwartz Foundation, visit www.mandi17.org.