Aleca Hughes Named Winner of ECAC Hockey’s Mandi Schwartz Award

Aleca Hughes. (photo by David Silverman, DSPics.com)

Bulldog Captain Selected for Honor Named in Teammate's Memory

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – After Mandi Schwartz '10 (1988-2011) was first diagnosed with cancer, her teammate Aleca Hughes '12 (Westwood, Mass.) emerged as one of the primary advocates seeking to turn the tragic situation into a chance to help others. Even after Mandi passed away in April of 2011, Hughes kept up that battle as a leader both on and off the ice. On Thursday, her efforts were rewarded as she was selected as the winner of the ECAC Hockey award named in Mandi's memory. The award, which recognizes the conference's student-athlete of the year, will be presented to Hughes at a game during the 2012-13 season.

"This brings me joy and pride," said Hughes. "In every moment of every day, I strive to live with the energy and grace Mandi embodied. Mandi was an exceptional student-athlete and person. It is an honor to accept this acknowledgement in her name." 

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 had the task of selecting the winner. Hughes was announced as one of 11 finalists two weeks ago.

"Throughout her career, Aleca has been a tremendous competitor and a supportive and loyal teammate," said Yale head coach Joakim Flygh. "She has been widely (and appropriately) recognized for her outstanding humanitarian work as her efforts helped save lives and inspired others to take action. In addition to her community building work, Aleca has been a model student at Yale and a highly respected leader of the Yale student body."

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 other player win the award -- Jackee Snikeris '11 last season -- and three other finalist selections besides Hughes and Snikeris (Kelsey Johnson '07 in 2007 and Danielle Kozlowski '09 twice, 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. A native of Wilcox, Sask., 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, a forward who played on a line with Mandi, managed to integrate her own love for the game of hockey with a passion to contribute off the ice as well. She has been honored many times over for her academic performance, leadership and humanitarian work. The honors she received this spring include:

  • The Coach Wooden Citizenship Cup, open to all NCAA student-athletes
  • The BNY Mellon Wealth Management Hockey Humanitarian Award, open to all male and female ice hockey players at the Division I and Division III levels
  • The Sarah Devens Award, open to all female ECAC Hockey and Hockey East athletes
  • The Yale Athletics department's Molly Meyer Humanitarian Award, given to one female and one male senior student-athlete each year
  • The Yale women's ice hockey team's Bingham Award for leadership
  • The Yale women's ice hockey team's 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

Throughout it all, 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 combined.

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 cancer. The four drives at Yale to date 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 received her fourth ECAC Hockey All-Academic honor this year. She majored in American studies and wrote her senior essay on the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and its current lawsuit over The Cape Wind Project, a proposed offshore wind farm off Cape Cod in Massachusetts. The lawsuit says that the project will "irreparably damage the seabed of Horseshoe Shoal, which holds cultural and historical significance for the Tribe", and will make the Tribe's spiritual ceremonies and day-to-day practices nearly impossible. Hughes' paper focused on the role of the sovereign nation in a lawsuit against the federal government.  

Hughes is currently taking part in 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.

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Report by Sam Rubin '95 (sam.rubin@yale.edu), Yale Sports Publicity

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