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Emotional Week Culminates with Annual Banquet

Aleca Hughes (left) accepts the captain's gavel from Samantha MacLean. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)
Aleca Hughes (left) accepts the captain's gavel from Samantha MacLean. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)

Hughes Introduced as Captain and Mandi Schwartz Award Winner

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Culminating an emotional week, the 2010-11 Yale women's ice hockey team gathered for one final time Friday night for the annual team banquet at The Course at Yale. The Bulldogs, who were part of a memorial service for their teammate Mandi Schwartz (1988-2011) on Wednesday night and led the annual Mandi Schwartz Marrow Donor Registry Drive at Yale on Thursday, spent Friday night remembering a season like no other, as Mandi's battle with cancer provided constant perspective throughout a year of ups and downs. The ceremony included the presentation of the Mandi Schwartz Award for the first time, given in acknowledgement of one player's unique courage, grit and determination. Junior forward Aleca Hughes (Westwood, Mass.) won that award, and also was introduced as the team's 2011-12 captain.

In his first year as head coach, Joakim Flygh has made an effort to find innovative ways to improve his team's performance both on and off the ice. That same approach was evident Friday night, as there were several new additions to the banquet format. The Bulldogs had a special master of ceremonies for the event -- Giana, the nine-year-old that they "adopted" after she had surgery for a brain tumor at Yale-New Haven Hospital. She got the evening started by introducing herself, adding "I can only hope that I am as inspirational to the team as Mandi and the team have been to me."

After dinner, the ceremony resumed with a slideshow. Assistant coach Jess Koizumi then presented the Wendy Blanning Award, given to the most improved player on the team. In introducing the winner -- junior forward Lauren Davis (Morrison, Colo.) -- Koizumi recalled Davis' work ethic and "the million questions she would ask so that she mastered our fore check."

Davis emerged as one of Yale's top forwards in 2010-11 thanks largely to her adopting thankless roles such as being one of the team's top fore checkers. But she also produced some offensive highlights, including scoring her first career goal in Yale's win at Union Feb. 4.

"Our entire team erupted, because we all knew she deserved it," Koizumi said.

It was then time for the presentation of the Mandi Schwartz Award, which had been known as the Bulldog Award in previous years. Giana spoke of how "Mandi showed the world how tough and determined she was" while introducing a video of Caroline Murphy '10, Mandi's friend and teammate. Murphy was in Germany, but she taped a presentation of the award in which she noted that Mandi would "be humbled and embarrassed" to know that an award had been named after her.

"She would probably say 'Oh guys, come on'," Murphy said. "And she would say 'thank you.' … She would say it wouldn't have been possible for her to be courageous without everyone being courageous with her … She would say this award is a reflection of you all, and our collective courage, determination and grit."

The rest of Murphy's presentation was delayed by technical difficulties, so the Bulldogs moved on to the presentation of the most valuable player award. In a continuing effort to engage alums, the Yale coaching staff invited one of them back to New Haven to present the award. Helen Resor '09, a 2006 Olympian for Team USA and former Yale MVP award winner, returned to present the 2010-11 award.

Resor had a history with this year's winner, recalling how while in high school her Noble and Greenough team face a goalie from the Taft School who wound up breaking up Nobles' perfect season by, as Resor put it, "single-handedly" forcing Nobles to settle for a tie. That goalie, of course, was Jackee Snikeris (Downingtown, Pa.). Snikeris earned her third straight MVP award Friday night.

"Yale is known for its goaltending," Resor said, rattling off the names of some of Yale's all-time leaders. "She shattered every single one of their records, which is astounding."

After a break to show some bloopers from the season, Murphy's video resumed and she announced Hughes as the winner of the Mandi Schwartz Award.

In addition to displaying all the qualities that the award recognizes, Hughes was also one of the leaders in efforts on Mandi's behalf, including extensive work on the "White Out for Mandi" fundraiser game and the Mandi Schwartz Marrow Donor Registry Drive. On Thursday, the Bulldogs added nearly 900 people to the Be The Match Registry in Mandi's memory.

"This is no surprise, because [Aleca] did everything she could think of to help Mandi in her battle with cancer," Murphy said.

The team's four seniors -- Snikeris, forward Bray Ketchum (Greenwich, Conn.), defenseman Samantha MacLean (Mississauga, Ont.) and forward Lili Rudis (Chicago, Ill.) -- then spoke, reminiscing about the past season and their careers.

"Our four years have been everything we could have asked for," MacLean, Yale's captain, said. She then passed the ceremonial captain's gavel on to Hughes, who spoke briefly.

"Our whole program has shown so much strength and resilience," Hughes said. "I'm so happy and proud to call you teammates and best friends."

Volunteer assistant Eddie Ardito then presented the Richard H. Brodhead '68 Award, given to the player "who has contributed significantly to the success of the team while excelling academically." The winner, Snikeris, fit that definition perfectly. In addition to her on-ice accomplishments, she was also ECAC Hockey Student-Athlete of the Year and will earn her fourth ECAC Hockey All-Academic Team selection this year as well.

Flygh followed, presenting the Bingham Award for leadership to MacLean, Yale's captain.

Assistant coach Paul Nemetz-Carlson then presented another new award, the 3v3 Award. When Flygh took over as head coach this year, he and his assistants started a weekly 3v3 competition in the team's practices. As Nemetz-Carlson noted, the competition also was a chance to celebrate the team's past, as it was named after all-time leading scorer Maria Dennis '88 and the top goaltender in the competition earned an award named after goaltending great Sarah Love '06. The winner of the team competition was "The Pylons", represented by MacLean, freshman forward Paige Decker (New Preston, Conn.) and sophomore defenseman Tara Tomimoto (Calgary, Alta.).

Flygh then presented the Coaches' Award, admitting that he had a tough time singling out any individual based on the award's criteria (work ethic, attitude and commitment to the core values of the Yale women's ice hockey program). He decided to recognize the entire senior class.

"I had a meeting with the seniors one of the first days I was on campus," Flygh said. "I talked to them about leaving a legacy behind. The Class of 2011 did a great job throughout the whole season, leading by example … We also talked about honoring Mandi the right way: by working hard."

Flygh then gave his reflections on the season, thanking many of the people involved with the program. The players then had their chance to give gifts to the assistant coaches and support staff, and the coaches then recognized each of the letter winners and gave the each of the seniors a framed jersey with photos.

After a video presentation that included the juniors, sophomores and freshmen all answering questions about the seniors that ranged from what type of animal they would be to what they have meant to Yale Hockey, it was up to Giana to sum up the night.

"The future for Yale women's ice hockey is bright," she said. "See you next year."

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Report by Sam Rubin '95 (, Yale Sports Publicity