December 5, 2019
Written By: Jamie Neugebauer
It is early December on the campus of the Athol Murray College of Notre Dame, and that means only one thing: the Mandi Schwartz Memorial Tournament.
The Mandi, as it is known amongst the players, brings together the 16 best female Midget AAA clubs in Western Canada to Notre Dame’s famed Duncan McNeill Arena for a three-day, 40-game tournament.
And for next-level coaches like the University of Regina’s Sarah Hodges, herself an ND alumnus, it is an ideal event to scout prospects.
"I have been going (to the tournament) since it started," she said.
"It is the tournament that all the good teams want to go to, so it’s always been a great competition. I think the most valuable thing about it is just seeing the players in one spot over a short period of time, and for university coaches, it’s at a perfect time because we’re all on exam breaks. It’s also nice to just be able to go and watch hockey for a few days, and not worry about my own games coming up soon."
The tournament was renamed in 2011 for the late Mandi Schwartz, a Hound whose family still lives in Wilcox, and who passed away eight years ago from leukemia.
That the prestigious event is such a platform for players looking to earn scholarships and opportunities at the US and Canadian University level is something that current ND Midget AAA head coach and Director of Female hockey Craig Perrett feels Mandi, who went on to play three seasons at Yale University after graduating from the College, would be proud of.
"For me, it’s an honour to be a part of it," said Perrett.
"I felt it was my duty to read up and learn as much as I could about who Mandi was as a person, and we do our best to bring the characteristics she brought to the campus. So it’s a big deal. We’re looking to have 35-plus universities between the NCAA, USports, and the ACAC to come to watch the kids this week. I personally have conversations with scouts and coaches regularly, and with our own players too, as part of my job is to do everything I can to help our young women get to the next level."
All of four western provinces, B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, will have top representation at the 2019 event, with five of Canada’s Top 10 ranked squads set to do battle between Dec 5 and 8.
The opportunity to compare talent from various top programs is invaluable to the likes of Hodges.
"It’s great to see that competition, especially when there are good match-ups, which is often," she said.
"It’s especially great to see teams from different provinces face each other since it gives you a perspective on the different leagues across the west."
After 13 regular-season games in the Saskatchewan league, Perrett’s Hounds sit fourth in the competitive eight-team loop.
They were in a similar spot ahead of last year’s event, one in which they rode an incredible wave of momentum, made the final, and only lost to the juggernaut and eventual Esso Cup participant Saskatoon Stars.
ND assistant captain Annie King, who will go on to represent Canada at the IIHF World U18 Championship in Slovakia upon the conclusion of the event, hopes this year can have a very similar galvanizing effect on the team.
"We all want to represent Mandi the best we can,"said King, "and I know last year our run in the tournament was the springboard for us playing some of the best hockey we’ve ever played as a team."
"I think this year it’ll be the same thing, we’ll watch the videos so that everyone knows exactly what Mandi means to everyone here at Notre Dame, and hopefully roll from there."