It’s rare for a young player to get a low number so soon after he reaches the NHL. For each of the three seasons that Jaden Schwartz has been a member of the St. Louis Blues, he has worn one of the most iconic numbers in hockey. His No. 9 has been worn by some of the greats in the league -- Gordie Howe, Rocket Richard and Bobby Hull. Heck, it's retired by a lot of teams in the league, but not by the Blues. So you would think that number would stick with Schwartz for a long time as he continues to establish himself as a top forward for the team.
He won’t be wearing No. 9 any longer, however. It’s not because some new veteran teammate wanted it or because the No. 8 he wore coming up through junior and college hockey became available (that one is retired by the Blues, actually). It’s because he has a chance to honor his late sister Mandi.
The 22-year-old winger announced on Twitter Friday that he will wear No. 17 next season, which is the number Mandi wore as a member of the Yale University women’s hockey team before succumbing to leukemia in 2011.
A touching tribute and a constant reminder to anyone that knows the story.
The No. 17 became available after Vladimir Sobotka decided to leave the Blues for the KHL after a contract dispute. He has reportedly signed a three-year deal with Avangard Omsk, but will still have a salary arbitration hearing later this month with the Blues, whether Sobotka shows or not according to the league.
Either way, Schwartz will now wear No. 17 to honor Mandi and the rest of his family.
"Mandi never gave up," Jaden told Blues.com in January. "She inspired me a lot and I learned a lot from her. Before she got sick, I wasn't really aware of cancer or knew a lot about it, but when something like that happens you learn a lot and want to do things to help whenever you can."
There were so many ups and downs for the Schwartz family in the wake of Mandi’s diagnosis.
Mandi had first been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2008 while a junior at Yale. She underwent chemotherapy and went into remission, but the cancer came back in 2009. More treatments, including a stem cell transplant from umbilical-cord donors in Seattle helped, but the cancer remained.
Though the diagnoses was constantly deflating, Mandi never lost her fight.
On April 1, with the end near, Rick went to check on his daughter.
“She was riding the bike, trying to get fit, trying to stay sharp,” Rick said, his voice catching. “She was still riding the bike to overcome the disease that took her away from us. If you were to see her as weak as she was, riding that bike . . .
“She never lost heart until the day she left us. That will stick with me for the rest of my life.”
On April 3, Mandi died at age 23.
Not long after Mandi passed away, the Mandi Schwartz Foundation was formed to help raise money and create awareness in order to help others in her name.
Yale University annually holds a “White Out for Mandi” game and the entire Blues team was in attendance last year. She is still a prominent figure in Yale hockey and her No. 17 still hangs in the women's team's dressing room.
It’s not hard to see why Jaden Schwartz wants to honor someone with a fighting spirit like that and one that made such an impact on those around her in the all-too-brief time she had.