Award for Academic Excellence, Community Service and Leadership in Teammate's Memory
NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Yale forward Aleca Hughes '12 (Westwood, Mass.) was inspired to help save lives by her teammate Mandi Schwartz '10 (1988-2011), who battled cancer for more than two years before passing away in April of 2011. Now, Hughes is one of 11 finalists for the ECAC Hockey award named in Schwartz' memory. The award recognizes the league's student-athlete of the year, and the winner will be announced later this month.
ECAC Hockey's Mandi Schwartz Student-Athlete of the Year Award goes to a student-athlete who excels in the classroom, participated in at least 50 percent of the team's games, and demonstrates leadership on and off the ice. Each team can select one student-athlete as a finalist, and a committee of administrators has the task of selecting the winner.
The award was known as the ECAC Hockey Student-Athlete of the Year Award prior to being named in Mandi's memory earlier this year, on what would have been her 24th birthday (Feb. 3). It was first presented in 2007. Yale has had one player win the award -- Jackee Snikeris '11 last season -- and three other finalists besides Hughes and Snikeris (Kelsey Johnson '07 in 2007 and Danielle Kozlowski '09 in 2008 and 2009).
Mandi, who battled acute myeloid leukemia for more than two years, was a three-time ECAC Hockey All-Academic Team selection whose gentle nature and selfless approach to life endeared her to everyone she met. She attended Athol Murray College of Notre Dame prior to Yale.
On Dec. 8, 2008 -- just four days after extending her streak of consecutive games played to 73, picking up an assist in Yale's 4-1 win over Brown at Ingalls Rink -- Mandi was diagnosed with cancer. She returned home to Saskatchewan for treatment. On Jan. 8, 2010, after five rounds of strong chemotherapy and 130 days in the hospital put her in remission, she returned to Yale for the spring semester. She was planning to return to playing hockey in the 2010-11 season, but in April of 2010 she learned that the cancer had returned. Even after receiving a stem cell transplant using umbilical cord blood at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle in the fall of 2010, the cancer returned. After her final relapse, she returned home to Canada and passed away on Apr. 3, 2011.
Even while she was sick, Mandi took the time to follow the progress of the teams she played for. At one point she wrote to her high school team:
"I encourage you to enjoy every time that you step on the ice. Don't forget to play for the fun of the game. Every time you go for a skate is a chance to make yourself better. Do what you love most and have the time of your life."
Hughes, who played on a line with Mandi, has already been honored many times over for her academic performance, leadership and humanitarian work. The honors she has received this spring include the Coach Wooden Citizenship Cup, open to all NCAA student-athletes; the Hockey Humanitarian Award, open to all male and female ice hockey players at the Division I and Division III levels; and the Sarah Devens Award, open to all female ECAC Hockey and Hockey East athletes. Hughes also received the Yale Athletics department's Molly Meyer Humanitarian Award, given to one female and one male senior student-athlete each year, and the Yale women's ice hockey team's Bingham Award (for leadership) and Brodhead Award (for academic excellence). Hughes and the Mandi Schwartz Foundation were also one of three finalists in the "Community Organization" category for the National Consortium for Academics and Sports' Giant Steps Award.
Hughes' story has been intertwined with that of her fallen teammate. Mandi inspired Hughes to start a number of initiatives, including the Mandi Schwartz Foundation and the annual "White Out for Mandi" fundraiser game at Ingalls Rink. The first two "White Outs" have raised more than $50,000.
Hughes has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the value of marrow donation and umbilical cord blood donation for patients with life-threatening illnesses. She has been one of the driving forces behind the Mandi Schwartz Marrow Donor Registration Drive at Yale, which is led each April by the women's ice hockey, football and field hockey teams. The first such drive was held in 2009, shortly after Mandi was initially diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. The four drives at Yale have added more than 3,000 potential marrow donors to the Be The Match Registry and located at least six genetic matches who donated to patients with life-threatening illnesses.
This past fall Hughes started the Mandi Schwartz Foundation to keep Mandi's legacy of helping others alive. In addition to the White Out, the women's ice hockey team raised money for the foundation by participating -- along with the Yale men's ice hockey team -- in the season-long "Goals for Good" campaign. Through that campaign, ECAC Hockey teams competed against each other to see who could raise the most money for charity.
Hughes was also her team's representative for Yale Athletics' Thomas W. Ford '42 Community Outreach Program. She was involved in many team events such as Youth Days and Skate with the Players, and also volunteered as a coach with Yale Youth Hockey.
Hughes and the Bulldogs also continue to spend time with their adopted teammate Giana, a local 10-year-old girl who had surgery for a brain tumor at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Those community service efforts helped Yale, as a team, earn the New Haven Register's "Dave Solomon Memorial Sports Persons of the Year Award" for 2011.
The 31st person to captain the Yale women's ice hockey team in its 35-year varsity history, Hughes led the team in assists (11) and points (15) this past season. She was among Yale's top four scorers every season of her career, and led the team in goals (a career-high 10) in 2010-11. She did not miss a game in her career, finishing with 30 goals and 31 assists for 61 points in 116 games. She is in Yale's career top 20 for goals (20th), assists (t-19th) and points (20th). She has twice earned the Yale women's ice hockey team's Mandi Schwartz Award for courage, grit and determination.
Hughes has excelled in the classroom and will receive her fourth ECAC Hockey All-Academic honor this year. She majored in American studies and is about to start Dartmouth's Tuck Business Bridge Program, a one-month summer program in business skills.
Hughes is a graduate of Hotchkiss School. She was team captain and All-New England at Hotchkiss and also played for the Connecticut Stars, earning two bronze medals and one silver at Nationals.
ECAC Hockey Mandi Schwartz Award 2011-12 Finalists
- Vanessa Welten, Brown
- Katelyn Ptolemy, Clarkson
- Kimberly Sass, Colgate
- Amanda Mazzotta, Cornell
- Laura Bellamy, Harvard
- Sally Butler, Princeton
- Jordan Elkins, Quinnipiac
- Laura Guillemette, Rensselaer
- Josee Belanger, St. Lawrence
- Emilie Arseneault, Union
- Aleca Hughes, Yale
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity