EDMONTON – Jaden Schwartz views the world through a different lens than many other hockey players his age.
In conversation, Schwartz seems older than his 19 years. Watching his sister Mandi succumb to cancer earlier this year changed his perspective on his life.
Hockey is important to him, as it was to Mandi. Schwartz fractured his ankle in the second game of world junior hockey championship in Buffalo, N.Y., last year and watched from the sidelines as the Canadian team collapsed in the third period of the gold-medal game and lost to Russia.
That stung, but Mandi was fighting for her life at home in Wilcox, Sask., while he was at the tournament.
“Obviously me getting hurt, that's nothing compared to what she went through,” Schwartz said. “Obviously the loss is tough for everybody and it's a learning experience, but when you see Mandi go through that, it puts things in perspective and you know what's most important in life.
“It really changes you in a different way.”
Mandi, who played for the Yale Bulldogs women's hockey team, died April 3 of leukemia at the age of 23.
Schwartz, brother Rylan – a teammate at Colorado College – and parents Rick and Carol are working through their grief this summer.
“It's obviously been tough,” Schwartz said. “Without family and friends, I don't know if it's possible to get through something like that. I can't even start to explain how much it means to us.
“Mandi helped us a lot too, knowing how strong she was and how she supported us. I know she wouldn't want us to be sad all the time and down. She'd want us to keep on trucking. Her favourite motto was ‘struggle and emerge’ and that's what we're trying to do.”
Schwartz is one of 47 players, born in 19, attending the Canadian junior team's summer camp in Edmonton this week.
Their first on-ice sessions were Wednesday at Rexall Place, where head coach Don Hay pushed the prospects hard in front of a handful of fans and several NHL personnel, including Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock. Bent over with their mouths open and trying to catch their breath, some players were shaking off summer rust.
“We want to see how they can pick up on drills,” Hay said. “We want guys to execute. We want guys to perform well. You keep pushing players to be a little bit better.”
The six-day camp ends with an intra-squad game Saturday in Edmonton and another Sunday in Fort McMurray. About 35 will be invited to a selection camp in December and 22 will be chosen to play in the 2012 world junior championship in Edmonton and Calgary.
Schwartz was the 14th overall pick in the 2010 NHL draft by the St. Louis Blues. He's one of seven veterans from the 2011 team eligible to play for Canada a second time at the 2012 tournament in Edmonton and Calgary starting Dec. 26.
The five-foot-10, 184-pound forward was on Canada's top line in Buffalo before a Czech player collided
with him in the first period.
Schwartz kept playing and scored a power-play goal before the pain in his ankle forced him to the bench permanently.
His tournament cut short and a sister gravely ill, if Schwartz felt black clouds enveloping him, he didn't show it. Portland Winter Hawks forward Ryan Johansen was Schwartz's roommate during the tournament.
“Me and Jaden were probably the closest friends on the team and having to go through that with him, he really carried himself well through that tournament,” Johansen said. “He didn't talk about it too much and just kind of stayed positive. He was always trying to be happy.”
Schwartz is strong on the puck in all areas of the ice and his hockey instincts make him a constant scoring threat. He led all NCAA rookies in points per game last season at 1.57. Canada sorely missed his talents in the championship game in Buffalo.
His maturity and experience make Schwartz a solid candidate for captain or assistant captain should he represent his country again.
“I feel very lucky to get another shot,” Schwartz said. “I've been looking forward to this for a long time now, ever since last year's tournament ended.”
He continues to carry a chain that Mandi gave him as a Christmas present. Hockey is helping him heal in a myriad of ways, one of which is remembering how much his sister loved to play the game.
“Hockey is our family's life. It was everything to her,” Schwartz said. “Every time I step on the ice or go for a workout, it's just kind of a way to get things off your mind and do something you love to do. She was the same way.
“Any chance she got, she went for a workout and even skated when she could. It definitely helped a lot during the hard times.”