ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Hockey is a family thing for the Schwartzes of Wilcox, Saskatchewan. The Schwartz boys play for Colorado College. The youngest, Jaden, was the Blues' first-round pick in last year's NHL draft. His brother, Rylan, is his college teammate. Their older sister, Mandi, played at Yale.
So, Colorado College's appearance this week at Scottrade Center in the West Regional of the NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Championship would seem the perfect time and place for a family reunion.
Instead, the Schwartz boys will be here alone. Their mom and dad, Carol and Rick, will be home with Mandi. Mandi's two-year battle with cancer, round after round of chemotherapy and a failed stem cell transplant have left her too weak to travel.
"She's doing OK, still not great," Rick said by phone from Wilcox. "But it's not too bad day to day."
Since December 2008, Mandi has fought acute myeloid leukemia, an especially aggressive form of cancer. She spent 130 days of 2009 in a hospital in Regina and went through five rounds of chemotherapy, initially promising but unsuccessful in the end.
The family's next -- and last -- option was a stem cell transplant. The day Jaden Schwartz was drafted in June, he was more excited a donor had been found for Mandi than at being drafted 14th overall by the Blues.
The transplant, performed in Seattle, appeared to be successful, offering hope that Mandi had beaten the disease. Almost as uplifting was Jaden's selection to Team Canada in the World Junior Championships in Buffalo just after Christmas.
"We got the bad news in Buffalo," Rick said of the return of Mandi's cancer. "I stayed to support Jaden."
Jaden's time with Team Canada ended abruptly, when he suffered an ankle injury against the Czech Republic, though he got back on the ice and scored a couple of shifts later.
The most cruel blow hit the family in early January, when Mandi's doctors decided to stop chemotherapy. So, Jaden's injury turned out to be a blessing, because he recuperated for about three weeks at home in Wilcox and spent time with Mandi.
"School was out," Rick said. "He needed a break. He needed to see his sister."
Since then, Mandi has rallied a bit, gaining six of the 20-plus pounds she lost on chemotherapy, and attended two of her brothers' games.
"Our play improves when she's in the building," Rylan said. "We want to make her happy."
Rick hinted that Mandi's visits have been well-timed, for the boys' sake as well hers. "You want them to see her on her good days, not her bad days," the dad said. "You don't want it to be hard on them."
All agreed that this horrible situation has been easier on the family, knowing that Rylan and Jaden have each other.
"Anytime you have a family member right there with you, it helps," Jaden said. "It's been tough over the last couple years with Mandi battling. Whenever we need to go somewhere, we go together. When we need to talk, we talk. It's been a big help having him here. I know my parents like having the two of us together."
Even without their parents in the stands, the brothers have gotten amped up in the here and now of being in St. Louis.
"I'm excited to play in St. Louis. I wasn't planning on playing at Scottrade this early," Jaden said. "I didn't even know there was a regional here until a few weeks ago."
Coach Scott Owens couldn't resist interjecting: "In his shy, Saskatchewan way, he asked, `Do you think there's a chance we could go to St. Louis?' The gears were starting to work a little bit."
Such good-natured ribbing has taken the edge off the anxiety and sadness for the brothers, as has Owens' willingness to give them a break or two. He excused the pair from a few practices so they could visit Mandi after her transplant in Seattle and has given them days off here and there to sneak in a trip home.
"It's been a special year for the Schwartzes, with Mandi being as ill as she is," Owens said. "It's been a very close year for the Schwartz family and Colorado College. In a way, it's been real special because of that closeness."
Reinforcing the notion that hockey is a family thing for the Schwartzes. And regardless of the future for Mandi, Rylan or Jaden, it always will be.
Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)