ND - A Once in a Lifetime Opportunity

Notre Dame on behalf of Jaden Schwartz

One day when I was in grade five my mom and dad gathered us together and said, “We have to make a change. You’re all doing great playing hockey, and we know you love it and we don’t want to change that, but we’re stretched to the max driving you all over the place. We’ve decided to have a look at Notre Dame and see if moving there might work for us as a family.” So we drove to Wilcox for a Campus Day Visit. My older sister Mandi was particularly excited because she already knew they had an amazing hockey
program for girls. My parents were impressed with the school, the teachers, the coaches and all the sports programs so they decided that moving the entire family to Wilcox would give all three of us the best opportunities to succeed, and seriously simplify their lives.
Like so many other boys I began dreaming of playing in the NHL when I was very small. I started skating when I was two, and by age four I was playing hockey. In winter my dad would build a backyard rink and it was just so much fun and always full of kids. Skating on outdoor rinks was so special, and a big highlight of my childhood. I just loved everything hockey and it became my dream to play in the NHL and win the Stanley Cup. 

As we got older, all three of us started doing more and more sports in a really serious way. We lived in White City just east of Regina, and my parents were so busy driving us all over the place it was getting really hard on them. But once we moved to Wilcox it was much easier for everyone. That year my sister Mandi was in grade ten, my brother Rylan was in grade eight, and I was going into grade six. This meant that while they started at Notre Dame right away, I went to the Wilcox Elementary School for two years. When you grow up in Wilcox you really look forward to going to Notre Dame and I was no exception; I couldn’t wait to be a Hound. Whenever Mandi or Rylan was playing I just loved going with my parents or friends to the arena to watch. Every so often they have red and white nights where everyone gets all decked out in the school.

At that point Notre Dame still had a grade eight so I started when I was thirteen in the fall of 2005. This made me one of the youngest there, so while I was excited, I was also kind of nervous. But playing Bantam hockey as a Notre Dame Hound was just such a thrill. Coached by Bill Humphreys, we went to three tournaments that year and won the last, and then we won the league as well so it was a really great year.

The Notre Dame Coaches were totally different than anything I’d encountered before, or since. Both the teachers and the coaches really pride themselves on doing whatever it takes to help the kids succeed. They sacrifice a lot of time and put a lot of effort into being there to help. There were no excuses for not doing well because there was always someone you could ask for help. Being there for five years I built real friendships with my teachers and coaches, many of whom I still keep in touch with. I truly doubt that would have happened anywhere else. Everywhere you go you have so many friends it just feels like a big family. Grade eight was just the best year. Rylan was in grade ten and Mandi was in grade twelve, and with all three of us there it was so cool. Having an older sister there playing hockey at that level was really inspiring. She was so focused on what she wanted to do, and so dedicated and she worked so hard both in school and in hockey, that we both looked up to her and learned so much from her. She was a perfect role model and mentor for both of us, with her extraordinary vision, her ideals and her work ethic. Notre Dame was so special for her, and we could see how much she really loved it. When she graduated and went off to Yale University in Connecticut on a full hockey scholarship, we were so proud of her.

In grade nine, my second year of Bantam, Brandon Gormley was on my team, and Scotty Owens was our coach. Scotty was such a great guy, and I learned so much from him. Once again it was a great team and we didn’t lose a game all year. We won the league, the playoffs and all three tournaments. My second favourite sport is football, and that year I really enjoyed playing football as well. My first year playing Midget was in grade ten with Coach Dale Derkatch who’s just an excellent hockey player himself. He’d played for the Regina Pats and was probably the best coach I’ve ever had. He’s smart and knows how to get a lot out of his players. We won the league that year and made it to Regionals where we ended up losing in double-overtime. That was a pivotal year for me - my game really improved, my confidence improved, and I started to believe that if I really worked I might actually make it to the NHL. Once again, Brandon Gormley was on my team, and it was a year of great hockey with a great group of guys. In football, my team won the Bantam Football Championship - another great group of guys, and academically my average was always in the low-eighties so I was usually on the Honour Roll. The culture of the school is to do your best and do well, so every student pushes him or herself and there is always competition to see who does better, which really motivates you. This is a huge benefit because between your peers and your teachers you’re just set up to succeed.

The school is known for founder Father Athol Murray’s three sided approach to education, the academic, the athletic and the spiritual. And that spiritual part is pretty big. The school is open to people of all faiths; they teach about God, and everyone goes to church. My family is Lutheran, but we were certainly made welcome, and they accommodate just about everybody. Father Murray’s philosophy was, “I don’t care what your religion is but you’re going to have a relationship with God.” The Catholic Church is right there on the campus, so we went there.

In grade eleven I played Junior A Hockey with coach Mike Vandenburg. That year Rylan was also playing Junior, and we both got
to play for Team Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge where we won a silver medal - just a tremendous experience. I also made the U-17 Team, which is Team West, so I went to that tournament as well. Then, early in December 2008, we learned that Mandi had been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, and had to come home from Yale.

Notre Dame has always been a big part of our family, especially when everyone learned Mandi was sick. That amazing community
of people helped us so much, we simply can’t thank them enough. The school motto of Struggle and Emerge, and Mandi’s own
favourite quote Never Lose Heart were two pieces of wisdom that as a family we took to heart, and really learned from. And we still do. 

My grade ten year was probably the year I had the most fun because it was the last year we had when Mandi wasn’t sick.
In grade twelve I went to Nebraska and played Junior in the United States Hockey League. Because of some technical reason
I couldn’t attend high school there, so I took online courses. When I got back to Notre Dame in April I had three months to catch up. With the help of those great teachers and my peers I did, so thankfully I was able to graduate from Notre Dame with a full four year hockey scholarship to Colorado College.

Going to Notre Dame leaves you with some amazing pivotal experiences, and inspiring wisdom for life. Those two phrases, Never Lose Heart and Struggle and Emerge are both so important and always come back to me no matter where I go or what I’m doing. The entire time you’re at Notre Dame you’re learning and growing and changing in so many different ways. When Mandi got sick our lives were changed in one second, and I suddenly had a totally different perspective about what’s
really important in life. I became more thankful in many areas, and found out just how important
friends and family are.

When Mandi died in April 2011 the support we got from everyone at Notre Dame was unbelievable. They’ve always been there for me, and without them I don’t know how I would have gotten through the experience. The feeling of being part of a big family is something you take with you wherever you go. That whole family and community thing was so critically important for us
all during the time Mandi was ill, and it continues even now.

Over the five years I was at Notre Dame I really grew and matured. And of course, losing Mandi changed me very fast. I learned
to appreciate things more and to really care about other people. That is the culture of the school and the community, but after I left I think it grew within me even more. Leaving made me realize just how many good friends and relationships I had. Every day I flash to different memories from those years, and I keep in touch with countless people.

It’s pretty cool when I get to see other Hounds, because once you’re a Hound, you’re a Hound for life. Going there is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it’s really hard to find another place that builds such close bonds and relationships across the entire community. My intention now is to always try to build relationships like I did at Notre Dame, be part of a community and just
care about other people. It’s really important for me, and that for sure came from my years at Notre Dame. The value of working in your community and for your community and always giving back is constantly modeled all around you, and as I get older I want it to become a big part of my life.

A week after I graduated it was pretty exciting when I got drafted by the St. Louis Blues. Then in the fall I headed off to Colorado College and played NCAA Division One hockey with my brother in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. Rylan had already been there for a year, also on a full hockey scholarship earned at Notre Dame. Then in the spring of 2012, as soon as my second season ended, I signed with St. Louis, so I left Colorado. Right away I played my first game with the Blues against Tampa Bay and scored the winning goal, so it couldn’t have gotten any better. This is my rookie year, and so far it’s been pretty exciting and my dream come true! Playing in your first NHL game is something you work for and dream of your whole life and you only get to do it once. It’s absolutely the highlight of my career so far.

In both 2011 and 2012 I got to play with Team Canada at the World Juniors, another dream come true and such an opportunity. That tournament is something you watch growing up and you also dream of being part of, so that was a big moment too. During my grade eleven summer I got to play on the U-18 Team Canada team, and at the Ivan Helinka tournament in Europe we won the gold! Playing at the Olympics or World Championships would be a huge honour and something I definitely want to do. There’s a history of Team Canada and 16 Olympic Hockey at Notre Dame, and you always want to represent your country; it’s just an amazing experience every time you play for Canada.

Today as I move into my professional career, Mandi remains my biggest inspiration. Remembering how much effort she put into everything she did inspires and motivates me every day. Every thing I do is for her, and also for my parents who sacrificed a lot so we could play hockey. Mandi’s illness and passing was especially difficult for them, so I’m motivated to do the best I can at everything to make them happy and proud as much as I can. It’s the same for my brother. Notre Dame, my friends and how
hard they pushed me, I still have all that with me and it motivates me to continue working hard at everything I do.

Being at Notre Dame for so long really shaped me as a human being. Without that experience I’ve no idea who I’d be or where I’d be. I feel so lucky and very grateful to have been able to go there, especially for that many years. I think anyone who gets the opportunity should take everything they can from the experience. If you’re there for hockey you learn quickly there’s more to life than hockey, and you have to find a balance. It’s one of the best places to succeed and mature as an athlete and as a person, and
it prepares you for university at every level. If I have kids they’ll be going to Notre Dame for sure. It’s a once once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I recommend it to absolutely everybody. If you’re thinking about it, do what my family did. Go to Notre Dame for a Campus Day Visit. Take your skates and visit the arena. Attend a game. Eat at Varsity. Walk around the Campus, feel
the community, and then go and become part of it. It will change your life.


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