By: Matthew Cunha | Follow Me on Twitter @CunhaMatthew
In the summer of my junior and senior years of college at Husson University in Bangor, Maine (15 minutes from the University of Maine at Orono), I found myself, like many hopeful journalism students, at an unpaid internship looking to muster up as much experience as possible. I found myself as an intern at “The Maine Edge,” a weekly entertainment style paper in the Eastern and Central Maine area. As a sports fanatic, I was desperate in any way to dabble in the sports field.
In June of 2017, the Bruins had picked Alaska native and goalie Jeremey Swayman with their 4th round, 111th pick of the NHL draft. Swayman had committed to the local University of Maine. When me and my editor were discussing story ideas, I thought it would be worth a shot to reach out. I sent Swayman a “what the heck” DM on Twitter, not really expecting to hear anything. Sure enough, Swayman quickly responded and agreed to meet in his dorm room in the early part of August.
Swayman had just arrived at the Maine campus from his home in Anchorage, approximately 4,457 miles from Orono. After our conversation. I knew this 18-year-old was going to make it. I don’t know if it was his calm demeanor, his professionalism, or just his confidence, but I never doubted he would be a success at UMaine and, furthermore, in the NHL with the Bruins. Everything about my 15-minute encounter with Swayman reflects what people applaud about him almost five years later.
His play while at the University of Maine backed up my confidence. Swayman recorded a sub 3.00 goals-against average and finished his first two seasons with a .920 save percentage despite being on some awful Maine hockey teams. Swayman took his play to a whole new level his junior season finishing just a tad above a 2.00 GAA, and a .945 save percentage. Swayman’s Black Bears, after years of troubles, would have hosted a Hockey East quarterfinal if not for the COVID lockdown that halted everything in 2020.
Swayman finished the year as a Hobey Baker finalist and recipient of the Mike Richter Award for best goalie in college hockey. The awards just backed up what every follower of UMaine Hockey already knew. This guy, who rarely ever let the other team score more than two goals, was a stud. Not just as a hockey player at the University of Maine. But as a person and as a hockey player at the greatest level of competition in existence.
Fast forward to last season when Swayman found himself thwarted into a starting role for the Bruins. Rask was sidelined with an injury. Backup Halak tested positive for COVID. It was the second leg of a back-to-back. From the fourth string to the starter. Swayman, who we saw time and time again under siege from a lackluster Black Bear defense, was right at home. The opposing Flyers flew in shot after shot. Swayman was stellar, recording 40 saves in a 4-2 Bruins victory. Many Bruins fans were surprised by the composure of the young goalie. I expected it. It was just another game for him.
In a short sample size last year, Swayman stayed terrific with a 1.5 GAA in just ten games for the Bruins. I’ll be honest; I was disappointed when the Bruins decided to bring back Tuukka. It came off as they lacked confidence in Swayman, but that comes from someone who has an over abundance of confidence in the number one. The goalie tandem of him and Ullmark has worked. Coach Cassidy has been very good at riding the hot hand, and I expect that to continue into the playoffs.
This season, Swayman’s 2.34 GAA ranks fifth in the NHL. His .917 save percentage is tenth in the NHL. A stellar season for someone who, earlier in the year, was forced to Providence. Ullmark very well might get the nod in the first game of the playoffs. Linus has been the better guy of late as Swayman has fallen into a bit of a rut. That very well might be the safe option for Bruce Cassidy. But if this team has any chance of a long playoff run, I think it will have to be with the 23-year-old stud from Alaska.
One Cool Dude
At the conclusion of our conversation back in 2017, I thanked Swayman for taking some time out of his busy college schedule. I joked with him that if, in the future, if we saw each other in Boston, It was probably a good sign for both him (NHL player) and myself (NHL reporter). Swayman has gotten there. Meanwhile, my life has taken me in another direction and back to the Maine area.
Again, I think the reason I always just kind of expected Swayman to succeed was the way he handled himself as a 19-year-old. He had just been drafted in the fourth round of the NHL draft. He had no reason to respond to me. He had no reason to show up to talk to me. He had no reason to be on time and to be polite. But he did all of those things and answered all my questions in a way you would expect a seasoned NHL veteran to answer questions.
TME: What’s it like for you getting to play in Hockey East with the Bruins being right around the corner? JS: I couldn’t be happier. Obviously, the geography of where they are at and where I am at is perfect. I’m gonna be in Boston a lot and I’ve already fallen in love with the city. I’m just working every day to get to the real deal and obviously play in the TD Garden one day. Just knowing they are right down the road is a really good feeling and I want to do whatever I can to get to that next level.From my conversation with Swayman in The Maine Edge
You did it, Jeremey. And you have exceeded everyone’s expectations. Well, maybe not everyone. I knew from day one that you would be a stud in the NHL. I was right.