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Bruins' Jeremy Swayman is a Student of the Game

Young Bruins stopper Jeremy Swayman learned some valuable lessons at the University of Maine. Among them: being a goalie isn’t rocket science – and finding a good pair of ballet slippers may just take you to the next leveL
Jeremy Swayman

What makes writing about Jeremy Swayman difficult isn’t that he has no story to tell. Quite the opposite. The challenge, rather, is figuring out where to start – what provides the best window into the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and gregarious netminder who has, in short order, stolen the hearts and minds of the Bruins faithful.

On the one hand, the feigned agony he employs when reminiscing about his now-dearly departed Doris, a Chevy Tahoe that chugged its way to a 200,000-plus-mile existence before leaving Swayman’s life, speaks to his good humor. That there’s also a hint of earnestness speaks to his sentimental side.

On the other hand, one can explore the free-spirited personality of the 23-year-old by detailing the indelible mark he left on current Maine Black Bears goaltenders. That isn’t by finishing as a Hobey Baker Award finalist, by the way. Not by winning the Mike Richter Award, either. No, it’s that other thing – the ballet thing – the one where his decision to add the performance-dance elective to his course load during his junior year led Maine assistant and goalie coach Alfie Michaud to encourage the new batch of stoppers to take the class, too. And hey, Swayman will vouch for what it did for his balance and body awareness, not for a second tongue-in-cheek.

But anecdotes shared by friend and off-season goalie coach P.D. Melgoza perhaps best encapsulate Swayman. Days after Swayman’s first start at the Bell Centre, in March 2022, Melgoza said Swayman didn’t care to talk about the actual game so much as how cool it was to play in Montreal. It points directly to Swayman’s sincere, egoless, kid-in-a-candy-shop mentality. Melgoza hammered the point home when describing Swayman’s reaction to getting beaten by Tampa Bay Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos. “He was laughing when we were talking after,” said Melgoza. “ ‘Dude, one-timer from Stamkos, no one is stopping that. But how cool is it that’s happening?’ That’s just the kind of guy he is. Salt-of-the-earth kind of guy.”

As much is evident in Swayman wistfully reflecting on a childhood spent in Alaska. While kids growing up may have dreamed of bright lights and big cities, there’s not even the slightest indication the Anchorage native was the type to wish his way out of the Alaskan wilderness. When others were quick to flee for elite-level major junior, Swayman delayed his departure to the Lower 48. He felt it more important to spend every second he could with his family. Even today, Swayman’s voice is tinged with regret when he talks about his junior hockey days.

“I was so bummed because we had so many talented kids that were leaving the state so early, so the level of play would go down when all these kids would leave,” Swayman said. “If we all stayed in Alaska together, we would have a pretty legit, competitive team. That was the moment where it was getting realistic that if you wanted to get elite exposure with scouts and other teams that I was going to have to leave eventually.”

“Eventually” arrived in 2015, when Swayman left home for Colorado to play for the North American Prospect League’s Pikes Peak Miners. His journey then took him to USHL Sioux Falls the following season. Much of his transformation into the goaltender he has become, however, took place upon his arrival at the University of Maine in 2017. More specifically, it took place under the watchful eye of Michaud.

As Swayman explains, inquisitiveness defined his earliest days as a Black Bear. Swayman would want to talk X’s and O’s with Michaud, be it positioning, save selection, or just about anything to do with the position. And while care for the craft can be what separates upper-echelon netminders from those whose high-school glory days are relived ad infinitum, Michaud wanted Swayman to get out of his head. “He would just say, ‘It’s not rocket science. Just stop the puck.’ And that shaped my understanding,” Swayman said. “It is just a game, and if you compete, do whatever you can to stop the puck, it doesn’t matter how it looks. It just simplifies things for me, and it’s kind of a life mantra for me, too.”

One needn’t search high and low to find evidence of what that credo means to Swayman, either: “It’s Not Rocket Science” is emblazoned on his mask. And embracing simplicity was metamorphic for Swayman, who arrived at Maine a promising prospect and left at the college game’s zenith. Though he had excelled during his first two seasons as a Black Bear, Swayman put his stamp on the program in his third campaign, winning the NCAA’s top-goalie honors with a .939 save percentage, three shutouts and an NCAA-best 1,099 saves.

Unfortunately, Swayman’s collegiate career ended with a pandemic-related whimper. Cancellations cost Maine its chance at a Hockey East title, and Swayman, on a path to early graduation, inked his pro deal with Boston one week after the official nixing of the conference tournament. That his business management degree was in reach (and has since been completed) checked one box for Swayman. But he had another in mind. “I definitely had visions and goals set for myself, and I knew I wanted to be an NHL goaltender for the Boston Bruins, especially being drafted by them,” said Swayman, selected 111th overall in 2017. “I wasn’t going to stop until I got that.”

He didn’t have to wait long. Though he yo-yoed between the taxi squad, baby Bruins and big club throughout 2020-21, he was making NHL starts by last April. His .945 save percentage through 10 games gave Boston’s front office an indication of the caliber of keeper they had discovered, too. And by the Bruins’ post-season run last spring, Swayman was backing up Tuukka Rask. “Getting to go to the rink with him every day last year was a dream,” Swayman said. “When you’re there, you kind of want to pinch yourself, but at the same time, he’s your teammate, so you want to treat him with that respect, too, and not giving him the awe, the gaze. He wants to be competing, he wants a competitor, and that’s what I wanted to do, be the hardest competitor out there to make each other better.”

The same steel-sharpens-steel approach persisted through the early part of this season when goalie Linus Ullmark arrived as a free agent as an injured and unsigned Rask stepped away from the game to recover. And when Rask’s rumored return came to fruition in January, another approach – the same control-what-you-can-

control outlook he adopted back in Maine – kept Swayman grounded. Of course, Swayman couldn’t have known he’d be back in Boston so soon, nor could he know it would come at the expense of Rask’s career. Rask landed on the injured list four games into his return. Not even two weeks later, he announced his retirement. That cleared a path for Swayman, who hasn’t looked back since.

Before Rask’s return, the netminder’s specter loomed over the B’s crease. Every mention of Swayman – or Ullmark, for that matter – was punctuated with an “if,” “when” or “but,” the sentiment being that Swayman and Ullmark were placeholders. Rask’s retirement, however, sent Boston into the post-Rask era a year or two (at least) earlier than planned. Yet Swayman, who will end this season shy of 60 NHL appearances, has already used his natural athleticism, in-crease battle and positional awareness to instill in the Bruins a measure of confidence in a seamless transition from Rask to a new No. 1.

“Just from his first cup of coffee until now, the biggest thing when I watch, for me, is that he’s trusting his edges a lot more, staying on his feet, staying patient, not oversliding. He’s upright, and I think he’s doing a really good job at reading,” Melgoza said, expanding on the growth he’s seen in Swayman. “A lot of it is adjusting to the speed of the game. His hockey IQ has definitely grown and almost his ability to just stay patient, let the game come to him. It’s been a big jump from Day 1 until now.”

The goal now for Swayman is to build, not only on his in-crease experience but on the things that will make him mean as much to the organization as the netminder from whom he’s taking the reins. A non-bubble campaign has gone a long way in that department, said Swayman, who expressed that his bond with his teammates has grown day by day, road trip by road trip. The same goes for understanding the travel schedule, the toll of a long season and the ways in which to stay in the mental and physical condition necessary to shoulder the load. But next comes the most difficult hurdle, and that’s backstopping the Bruins when the games matter most, and ensuring he has the faith of an Original Six franchise that has built a culture of success.

“I want this team to believe in me, I want this city to believe in me, and I think it’s such a great family to be a part of, the Bruins, because it extends all over the world,” Swayman said. “It’s just such an incredible team and franchise to play for, and to be known as one of the goalies for this team is an incredible honor. I’m hungry for more and want to do everything I can to help this team win games.” 

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