What makes writing about Jeremy Swayman difficult isn’t that he doesn’t have a story to tell. But on the contrary. Rather, the challenge is figuring out where to start – which offers the best glimpse into the bright-eyed, bushy, and gregarious netminder who has stolen the hearts and minds of Bruins loyalists in a short span of time.
On the one hand, the feigned agony he employs when he remembers his now dearly departed Doris, a Chevy Tahoe that made its way to an existence of over 200,000 miles before leaving Swayman’s life, speaks for his good mood. The fact that there is also a touch of seriousness speaks for his sentimental side.
On the other hand, one can explore the 23-year-old’s free-spirited personality by describing the indelible mark he left on the current goalies of the Maine Black Bears. Not as a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, by the way. Not even with the Mike Richter Prize. No, it’s that other thing — the ballet thing — that’s where his decision to add the performance dance elective to his course load during his junior year led Maine assistant and goalkeeping coach Alfie Michaud to join the new group of stoppers encourage to take the course , too. And hey, Swayman will vouch for what it did for his balance and body awareness, not for a second wink.
But anecdotes told by his friend and off-season goalkeeping coach, PD Melgoza, perhaps best sum up Swayman. Days after Swayman’s first start at the Bell Center in March 2022, Melgoza said Swayman didn’t want 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 nailed it when describing Swayman’s reaction to being hit by Tampa Bay Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos. “He laughed when we chatted afterwards,” Melgoza said. “‘Dude, one of a kind from Stamkos, nobody’s stopping this. But how cool is it that this is happening?’ That’s just how he is. salt-of-earth guy.”
That much becomes clear in Swayman, who ponders wistfully on a childhood spent in Alaska. While growing kids may have dreamed of bright lights and big cities, there’s not a shred of evidence that the Anchorage native was the type to wish his way out of the Alaskan wilderness. As others quickly fled to major junior at elite level, Swayman delayed his departure to the Lower 48. He felt it was more important to spend every second he could with his family. Regret is still tinged in Swayman’s voice today when he discusses his junior hockey days.
“I was so disappointed because we had so many talented kids leaving the state so early that if all those kids left, the level of the game would drop,” Swayman said. “If we all stayed in Alaska together, we’d have a pretty legit, competitive team. That’s when it became realistic that if you were going to get elite presence on Scouts and other teams, I would eventually have to leave.
“Eventually” came in 2015 when Swayman left home for Colorado to play for the Pikes Peak Miners of the North American Prospect League. His journey then took him to USHL Sioux Falls the following season. However, much of his transformation into the goalie he has become happened upon his arrival at the University of Maine in 2017. More specifically, under the watchful eye of Michaud.
As Swayman explains, curiosity defined his earliest days as a black bear. Swayman would want to talk to Michaud about X and O, whether it’s positioning, saving selections, or just about anything to do with position. And while nurturing the craft may be what separates upper-level network supervisors from those whose high school glory days are relived ad infinitum, Michaud wanted Swayman to lose his head. “He’d just say, ‘This isn’t rocket science. Just stop the puck.’ And that shaped my understanding,” Swayman said. “It’s just a game and when you go in you do whatever it takes to stop the puck no matter what it looks like. It just simplifies things for me and it’s kind of a life mantra for me too.”
You don’t have to look far to find evidence of what this creed means to Swayman, either: “It’s Not Rocket Science” is emblazoned on his mask. And the embrace of simplicity was metamorphic for Swayman, who arrived in Maine as a promising prospect and left at the height of the college game. Despite excelling as a black bear in his first two seasons, Swayman made his mark on the program in his third season, winning NCAA top goaltender honors with a .939 save, three shutouts and the NCAA’s best 1,099 saves.
Unfortunately, Swayman’s college career ended on a pandemic-related whimper. Cancellations cost Maine its shot at a Hockey East title, and Swayman, on course for early graduation, signed his pro contract with Boston a week after the conference tournament was officially canceled. That his business degree was within reach (and has since been completed) Swayman ticked a box. But he had something else in mind. “I definitely had vision and goals in mind, and I knew I wanted to be an NHL goaltender for the Boston Bruins, especially after getting drafted by them,” said Swayman, who was ranked 111th overall in 2017. “I didn’t want to stop until I got that.”
He didn’t have to wait long. Despite bouncing back and forth between the Taxi team, the Baby Bruins and the big club in 2020-21, he made NHL starts until last April. His 0.945 percent save in 10 games gave Boston’s front office an indication of the goaltender’s caliber, which they also spotted. And in the Bruins’ postseason run last spring, Swayman assisted Tuukka Rask. “Going to the rink with him every day last year was a dream,” said Swayman. “When you’re there you want to pinch yourself but at the same time he’s your teammate so you should treat him with that respect too and not give him the awe and stare. He wants to compete, he wants a competitor and that’s what I wanted to do, be the toughest competitor out there to improve each other.
That same steel-sharp-steel approach continued earlier this season when goaltender Linus Ullmark arrived as a free agent while an injured and unsigned Rask retired from the game to recover. And when Rask’s alleged return in January came to fruition, a different approach — the same control-what-you-can-
Control he had taken back in Maine – kept Swayman grounded. Of course, Swayman had no way of knowing that he would be back in Boston so soon, nor could he know that it would be at the expense of Rask’s career. Rask ended up on the injury list four games after his return. Less than two weeks later, he announced his resignation. That paved a path for Swayman, who hasn’t looked back since.
Before Rask’s return, the specter of the goalkeeper hovered over the line of the B. Any mention of Swayman – or Ullmark, for that matter – was interrupted with an ‘if’, ‘when’ or ‘but’, with Swayman and Ullmark being placeholders. However, Rask’s retirement sent Boston into the post-Rask era (at least) a year or two ahead of schedule. But Swayman, who will finish just short of 60 NHL games this season, has already used his natural athleticism, increased struggle and positional awareness to give the Bruins a measure of confidence for a seamless transition from Rask to a new No. 1 convey.
“From his first cup of coffee until now, the greatest thing for me is watching him trust his edges a lot more, stay on his feet, stay patient and not slip. He’s upright, and I think he’s doing a really good job at reading,” Melgoza said, expanding on the growth he’s seen at Swayman. “A lot of this scales with the speed of the game. His hockey IQ has definitely gone up and almost his ability to just be patient keeps the game coming. It’s been a big leap from day one to now.”
Swayman’s goal now is to build not only on his increasing experience, but also on the things that make him as important to the organization as the supervisor he takes the reins from. A no-bubble campaign has come a long way in that department, said Swayman, who expressed his bond with his teammates has grown by the day, road trip by road trip. The same goes for understanding the itinerary, the pressures of a long season, and ways to stay in the mental and physical condition necessary to shoulder the burden. But next comes the toughest hurdle, and that’s stopping the Bruins when the games matter most and making sure he has the confidence 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 stretches all over the world,” Swayman said . “It’s just an incredible team and franchise to play for and to be known as one of the goalies on this team is an incredible honor. I’m hungry for more and I want to do everything to help this team win games.”