BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Team Canada's Jaden Schwartz was on crutches, his left leg in a cast.
Done for the world junior hockey tournament with a broken ankle suffered in the Canadians' 7-2 rout over the Czech Republic on Tuesday night.
"Obviously, when I found out, I was very, very disappointed," said the 18-year-old native of Wilcox, Sask. "I was really looking forward to playing in this tournament, and playing for Canada.
"It's really unfortunate timing," Schwartz added. "(But) Sitting here, feeling sorry for myself isn't going to do anyone any good. I'm going to be here to support the guys as much as I can, and I'll be cheering them on every game."
There was a reason that the media swarmed arounAlexd Schwartz after the undefeated Canadians' practice Thursday afternoon, in preparation for tonight's final preliminary round game against Sweden, also 3-0, for the right to advance straight to Monday's semifinal. You see, even prior to the world junior, Schwartz was forced to deal with the news that his sister Mandi's ongoing battle with cancer had taken an unfortunate turn.
Mandi, a former member of the Yale University hockey team, received a stem cell transplant in September after a much-publicized APB for a donor spread through the hockey community. The cancer returned just before Christmas.
Needless to say, Schwartz was quick to put his broken ankle in perspective. "Most people are going through worse things than I am," he said.
Indeed, while on the ice all is merry and bright for Team Canada -- now 3-0 with a decisive preliminary showdown with the Swedes on New Year's Eve -- there are not a lot of feel-good stories to be found away from the arena.
For example, Team Canada head coach Dave Cameron, who hails from the tiny hamlet of Kinkora, P.E.I., is pretty much having a family reunion in Buffalo. But not under the most pleasant conditions.
In September, Cameron's niece Kristen, an assistant coach of the Mercyhurst College women's hockey team in Erie, Pa., was riding her bicycle when she was rammed by a drunk driver. The accident left Kristen paralyzed from the chest down.
"She broke her neck," Cameron told the Free Press prior to the WJHC opening last Sunday. "She's paralyzed from the middle of the chest down, so she's trying to get back on track."
Cameron's family members are currently shuttling between Buffalo and Toronto, where his niece is recovering.
"We're hoping that if she can get her motor skills in her fingers back that would be huge," Cameron said. "Anything from the middle of the chest down, it would take some type of miracle or some advance in medicine.
"(But) She's got such a terrific outlook. She never once had the 'poor mes', feeling sorry for herself."
If all goes well, Team Canada officials are trying to accommodate Kristen for the game against Sweden. However, the trip, combined with a potential two- to three-hour wait at the Canada-U.S. border, could pose a problem.
"We're hoping to get her down for a game," Cameron noted. "She's a huge, huge hockey fan. Obviously, it would be a good sign if she could do it because it would mean she's progressing."
Again, there's no shortage of understanding for either Cameron or Schwartz in the Canadian locker-room. Defenceman Erik Gudbranson's younger brother, Dennis, is in remission from battling leukemia not once, but twice. Said Gudbranson of Schwartz's setback: "I feel terrible for him. But I know his sister is very proud of him and that will help him a lot."
Meanwhile, teammate Marcus Foligno, the son of longtime former NHLer Mike, lost his mother to cancer just last July. Although Foligno has dual citizenship, he made a promise to his mother that he would play for Canada (Foligno's older brother, Nick, an Ottawa Senator, played for the U.S. in the last two world championships).
Odd. Sometimes in sports, you'll find that stories such as Schwartz's and Cameron's stand out in the backdrop of celebration and the season. Alas, in Buffalo, not so much.
So they all stoically soldier on, nonetheless, with sisters and brothers and nieces never far from their thoughts.
"It is what it is, eh?," Cameron concluded. "You have to do what you can to support the family, so... it's certainly not ideal. People talk about pressure. When you go through that with your family it certainly puts it (hockey) into perspective."
On a personal note, Merry Christmas, Uncle Bob.
Happy New Year, everybody. Enjoy the hockey, and hug who you're with.