When the puck is dropped for most Yale women's hockey home games, finding a seat in the Ingalls Rink stands generally isn't a problem. A few journeymen parents and devoted friends pepper the bleachers, and pre-teens from youth teams press their faces against the glass, a rooting population doubled in number and decibel level when the band makes an appearance.
But when the Bulldogs host Brown on Friday night, those faithful few will be bolstered by the entire St. Louis Blues roster. The organization will make an off-day trip to New Haven, Conn., in support of forward Jaden Schwartz, whose sister, Mandi, was a forward for the Bulldogs before succumbing to acute myeloid leukemia in April 2011 at age 23. Mandi received the diagnosis during her junior year in 2008 and was in the midst of her battle with the disease when St. Louis selected Jaden in the first round of the 2010 draft.
Friday night's game is the fourth annual “White Out for Mandi,” a fundraiser aimed at increasing awareness for the national need for bone marrow donors to save lives of leukemia patients like Mandi. The Yale and hockey communities pack the Ingalls Rink stands with white-clad fans, and proceeds from donations and a silent auction of hockey memorabilia benefit the Mandi Schwartz Foundation, an organization started by Mandi's former teammate, Aleca Hughes, who directs the organization in conjunction with Jaden and Mandi's parents, Rick and Carol Schwartz, and Yale's assistant director of sports publicity, Sam Rubin.
When that quartet sat down last fall to schedule the White Out, Rick noticed the Blues would have an off day in the New York area Jan. 24, the day of a Yale women's hockey home game. Jaden had never been able to visit Yale because of hockey commitments. The group set the date in the hope he and a Blues teammate or two might be able to make the 80-mile trip.
“Jaden asked if he could go, and when we found out where it was and how close it was, we talked to a couple guys in our leadership group,” Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong said. “It seemed like an automatic decision to try to go and support Jaden and his family and help raise some awareness for a great cause.”
A few phone calls later — including one to Keith Allain, coach of the defending national champion Yale men's team and a former Blues goaltending coach — the Blues had added an open Friday afternoon practice at Ingalls and a trip to a Yale women's hockey game to their schedule.
St. Louis was third in the Western Conference entering Thursday night and features 10 Sochi-bound Olympians, including three Americans and two from the Schwartzes' native Canada.
Jaden and his teammates will then be on hand for informal autographs, pictures and conversation throughout the game, something Hughes hopes will combine with Mandi's cause to draw droves of hockey fans to the 3,500-capacity arena to break the record attendance for a women's hockey game at Ingalls (1,539).
In addition to raising money, the goal of the event is to increase awareness for “Be the Match,” a program that holds drives throughout the country to add bone marrow donors to the national registry. Schwartz received a bone marrow transplant in 2010.
Mandi Schwartz Foundation-sponsored drives at Yale have added 3,852 donors to the national registry and found 21 matches for patients in need in the past five years. The Foundation has pinged the radar of several national organizations, including Upper Deck, which reached out to Hughes and the foundation to commission a card in Schwartz's honor as part of its “Heroic Inspiration” series.
“The support we've received has been amazing,” Hughes said. “The hockey world is so small, and Mandi's story is so powerful.”