By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The biggest challenge University of Maine assistant coach Alfie Michaud had tutoring first-year goaltender Jeremy Swayman, the Bruins’ fourth-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, was reminding Swayman he was a goalie.
“For him, he’s just such a powerful skater, he’s active, so we really try to put limits on how far he leaves his crease, whether to even leave his crease sometimes,” Michaud told CBS Boston this week. “He’s athletic and he can skate so those guys tend to wander … and you know I was much like that when I was younger. That was my asset, my skating. Kids get in trouble sometimes if you start getting away from your net.”
While continuing to work with the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Michaud on staying near the net and simplifying his game, Swayman developed into one of the premier goaltenders in the nation, producing a .921 save percentage and 2.72 goals-against average for the Black Bears. It’s that form after one year of improvement that Swayman hopes will continue to impress the Bruins’ brass this week at development camp at Warrior Ice Arena.
If Swayman’s early-season performances weren’t impressive enough last year, he caught everyone’s eye the weekend of Dec. 8 and 9. He made 95 saves (that’s right, 95!) in a 7-4, 5-3 sweep of the Quinnipiac Bobcats. Clearly the Black Bears and the Bruins found out they had a special goaltender in their midst.
“It was something else,” the 19-year-old told CBS Boston on Tuesday. “The level of talent … Quinnipiac’s a phenomenal team and the quality of shots were just as good as the quantity. So I was on my toes, and I truly, I like a game that has more shots. You keep yourself focused and you really get into a moment. It was a great weekend because you made some milestones and we got two wins as well, which is the most important thing. So I was very happy with that.”
Swayman admitted he took a couple cold baths after that weekend even as he quickly turned the page and looked ahead to the following weekend. The Black Bears coaching staff was able to relish the impressive performance a bit longer.
“It’s one of those things that I know for us [it showed] that he can handle a workload,” Michaud said. “Can you play back-to-back games at a high intensity, that’s always the question for young goaltenders. … I know for me it was great to see that he handled the high volume of shots. It’s just one of those weekends, it wasn’t our best weekend and we played a little rope-a-dope with Quinnipiac. And he proved to himself and to the guys that he’s capable of winning hockey games when he’s getting a lot of shots.”
By the end of the season Swayman, who’d projected to be in a goalie-share situation, played 31 games. Bruins director of player development Jamie Langenbrunner admitted Tuesday that Swayman is “maybe a little ahead of where we projected possibly, but he was drafted in that slot for a reason. I think the scouts believed he could play and he’s shown it.”
Swayman’s season with Maine featured more highlights than his grabbing of the No. 1 job, making 960 saves and earning 15 wins. He earned a spot on the U.S. team at the World Junior Championship and appeared in one game. He also went viral with a video that showed him flipping a puck high into the air and catching it on his stick. It’s a trick he tries often to improve hand-eye coordination and to compete with Michaud to determine when extra goalie work can end after practice.
“I try to catch it as much as I can, right. But I don’t want to keep the stat because it might be a little embarrassing,” Swayman said.
There won’t be any early exits from college by Swayman in 2018. He’ll be back on campus this fall, working with Michaud and trying to help the Black Bears continue to turn their program around. He’ll get his usual check-ins from Bruins goalie development coach Mike Dunham, a fellow Main alum with strong ties to the program.
And in maybe as little as one more year, Swayman may find himself near the top of the Bruins’ goaltender depth chart. Along with Kyle Keyser, the Bruins have a couple goaltenders that are probably influencing general manager Don Sweeney’s thinking when it comes to signing a backup for Tuukka Rask for the long term.
Swayman’s not going to rush.
“I believe that the Bruins staff knows what’s in the best interest for me,” he said. “I have no complaints, they’ve been so good to me and I’m so excited for what’s to come.”
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.