clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

From Anchorage to Orono to Boston: Jeremy Swayman’s journey to becoming a top goaltending prospect

New, comments

A strong relationship with his father, a love of the outdoors, and a plant-based diet propelled Swayman to new heights.

University of Maine Athletics

Ken Swayman used to perch his son, Jeremy, on his lap in a backpack as the two of them observed the University of Alaska-Anchorage men’s hockey games with intensity.

Other times, Jeremy squatted on the lap of his older sister, Beth. The blare of the goal horn compelled Ken to routinely cover his infant son’s ears.

While Ken eyeballed the game from their seats behind the net, Jeremy was infatuated with the man patrolling the blue paint. Other kids habitually wailed and banged on the glass whenever a particularly stirring play occurred, but Jeremy remained fixated upon the man who was the last line of defense.

As a teenager, Jeremy matriculated into a skillful prospect. He played for South Anchorage High School and routinely attended various camps in the Alaska region (albeit not because he received an invitation).

While others were garnering the praise and attention that Jeremy craved, he understood that his time to make an impact on scouts was dwindling.

“I wasn’t a USA Hockey darling by any means,” reminisced Jeremy.

Jeremy worked closely with Steve Thompson, who owned the Alaska Goaltending Academy. Thompson is now the American Development Model manager of goaltending for USA Hockey and was part of the coaching staff that led Team USA to a gold medal at the 2019 IIHF Women’s World Championship.

Jeremy and Thompson first connected during the 2014-15 season, going to select festivals, which eventually developed into summer workouts and camps.

Aside from Jeremy’s natural ability, one attribute shone through:

“Passion - that’s where he stands out,” said Thompson. “He always has a smile on his face. I can’t think of one time that he’s in a bad mood.”

The duo transitioned from a traditional coach and student relationship to a personal friendship. While they drilled goalie fundamentals, such as different available reads, depth management, and giving net to take net, the two focused on the mental side of the game more than anything else.

Jeremy and Thompson are both students of the game, therefore natural conversation abounded as the two bounced ideas off one another like mad scientists - think Tony Stark and Bruce Banner were together in a lab.

Both are avid outdoor enthusiasts and used mother nature as an area to bond and train the brain, rather than drill the complexities of X’s and O’s. Jeremy and Thompson ran mountains together (yes, you read that correctly - RAN mountains), with Thompson sneaking in the occasional win (although he did note that “Jeremy can kick me up and down the mountains”).

Beyond their usual banter, the congenial pair would engage in semantics about how to mentor younger goaltenders, how to be the best possible teammate, and how to avoid letting the inevitable “cheeseball” goal allowed derail the rest of the game and future performances.

“I do think what stands about Jeremy (compared to his peers) is how disciplined and motivated he is,” said Thompson. “There are some kids that completely want to be passengers. There are so many ‘yes men’, but Jeremy isn’t afraid to ask questions. He’s not afraid to offer his own input.”

Thompson points to Ken’s profession as a doctor and the discipline required to be successful in that field, along with their inseparable father/son relationship as chief reasons for Jeremy’s unrelenting work ethic and dedication to his craft.

“He’s definitely a dad’s boy,” said Ken. “Just to make him happy meant everything to me. He carries himself with such a professional mentality. What I’m so proud of Jeremy, beyond his accolades, is the person he’s becoming.”

After being cut from the Kenai River Brown Bears of the North American Hockey League (NAHL), Jeremy relocated from Alaska to Colorado Springs, Colorado to play for the Pikes Peak Miners.

From there, everything changed.

Greg Vanover, the head coach of the Miners, was the first coach that struck home for Jeremy.

Vanover, who now is the head coach of the U16 Rocky Mountain Roughriders, coached the Miners for eight years. He progressed over 60 players, including Tampa Bay Lightning forward Blake Coleman, to the United States Hockey League (USHL), NAHL, and other top junior leagues. He also worked with the Dallas Stars rookie camp, assisting with the strength and conditioning off-ice program.

Admittedly, Jeremy’s training was bereft before connecting with Vanover. Several Rough Riders players vocally stuck up for Jeremy’s inclusion on the team, despite the roster already being finalized.

On a phone call, Jeremy told Vanover that he was going to work hard and win the team hockey games. Under Vanover, Jeremy learned how to work and compete at a high level every day.

“I’ve never worked so hard in a season,” recalls Jeremy, reflecting on the numerous wind sprints conducted in parking lots.

Vanover insidiously told Jeremy one day pregame that if he let in a shot during warmups that the goaltender would be running a track meet in the parking lot after the game. Ever motivated by a challenge, Jeremy would admonish teammates if they didn’t shoot hard in warm-ups, galvanizing them into strafing him with rubber. That night, Jeremy posted a 39-save shutout.

Another time, Vanover didn’t announce a starting goaltender. Jeremy kept glancing at the head coach, awaiting a nod in his direction to signal that the net was his. Vanover wanted to see how Jeremy would react in the situation, and he didn’t disappoint.

After no starting goaltender was announced, Jeremy skated out for warmups and immediately commandeered the blue paint. Vanover cracked a wry smile. It was Jeremy’s net.

A week out from the USHL draft, Vanover was on the phone with former Sioux Falls head coach Scott Owens. Vanover articulated to Owens that Jeremy was “legit” and that he would be their number-one goaltender.

Jeremy had already told Owens that. A year later, Jeremy told the University of Maine coaching staff the same thing. Jeremy would be the number-one goaltender on all of those teams. Despite his competitive streak, Vanover lauded that Jeremy is an excellent teammate, who is very supportive of his peers and very coachable.

Jeremy was selected by the Boston Bruins in the fourth round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, 111th overall, before ever donning Maine Blue, white, and navy.

“There was no doubt, ever, that that kid was going to be a hockey player,” said Vanover.

Swayman stepped onto campus in Orono, a disconcerting 4,452 miles from his family in Anchorage, with an insatiable urge to help the team win immediately. That year, Jeremy finished third among freshman goaltenders with 31 appearances, earning seven Hockey East honors in the process and securing a spot on the Hockey East All-Rookie team.

In his sophomore campaign, Jeremy finished fourth in the country in saves after he commanded the net for 35 of the Black Bears’ 36 contests. A four-time conference defensive player of the week, the goaltender affectionately nicknamed ‘Sway’ earned Third Team Hockey East Conference All-Star.

“I knew if I stopped the puck at the University of Maine, I’d get the chance to continue to do so professionally,” said Jeremy.

While he certainly impressed in his first two go-rounds, Jeremy took an expeditious leap in his third year. Not only did he backstop Maine to its highest finish in the Hockey East conference in eight years, he took home enough hardware to fill a Home Depot.

Jeremy won the Mike Richter award, bestowed upon college hockey’s best goaltender. He was a finalist for college hockey’s most prestigious award, the Hobey Baker, which is presented to the nation’s top college hockey player. The Hockey East player and goaltender of the year and first-team All-American also won the Walter Brown award, allocated to New England’s best American-born hockey player.

He owns the university’s single season record for most saves in a season, albeit one cut short by COVID-19. His 1,099 saves topped the nation and he finished with the country’s third highest save percentage, a whopping .939%.

How’s that for a season, huh?

Despite producing a season so superb that it required an expanded trophy case, Jeremy’s fondest memory was the last game of his college career.

This singular game meant more to him than the series against archrival University of New Hampshire Wildcats. No, not because it was his last game at Alfond Arena - it was senior night. He wanted to honor those who battled in front of him a win on their last night. Swayman produced a Superman-like effort, stopping all 48 shots he faced.

“That’s the evolution of Jeremy,” said Alfie Michaud, an assistant coach at the University of Maine. “He’s starting to get it. He’s playing for others besides himself.”

Jeremy’s ascent to college hockey stardom wasn’t by accident. During the season, he shifted his diet to a plant-based approach. What initially was undertaken as a healthy shift to a Mediterranean diet, heavy on vegetables, grain bowls, and wraps, veered to full vegan.

“I just wanted to get an edge,” he said. “I had watched this documentary about nutrition and the benefits of going vegan and I got all fired up. I told my trainer that I was going vegan,” said Jeremy.

Jeremy judiciously stuck to the fresh diet, not even telling his trainer for the first two weeks. After those 14 days, the team trainer noticed that Jeremy had cut 11 pounds and his heart rate had lowered. Jeremy giddily informed him of his diet change, pointing out how much quicker he was recovering from his taxing training and on-ice sessions.

Jeremy plays around 193-195 pounds typically, adding around five pounds during the offseason. While he used to consume red meat three times a week, his switch to a plant-based diet has kept his weight down while improving his recovery and performance. His pre-game routine - if you can call it that - has remained the same, a not-too-superstitious mix of stretching and basic hand-eye coordination drills.

“Jeremy’s done a great job making those choices - I mean, do you want to have a water or a pop?” said Michaud.

Michaud, a former University of Maine standout between the pipes himself, credited Jeremy’s work ethic, coachability, and willingness to consistently try new things as pillars to his success.

Both Jeremy and Ken spoke glowingly about Jeremy’s connection and relationship with Michaud - Jeremy has referred to Michaud as a second father.

“I’m just a grumpy old man,” Michaud drolly said.

Michaud’s matter-of-fact way of coaching and Jeremy’s sponge-like absorption of knowledge created a great trust between the duo, forged from Michaud valuing knowing Jeremy as a person before him as a hockey player. The two would spend three goalie sessions a week together, in addition to a video session.

Jeremy viewing Michaud as both a mentor and a second father speaks volumes to his relationship with his own old man.

The two share a special connection, forged by hiking, backpacking, and rock climbing from a young age. Jeremy would accompany Ken on his outdoor adventures, fitting cozily in the same backpack that he did when Ken would bear him to hockey rinks.

As Jeremy has grown, so have the adventures: hiking in Estes Park, Colorado, a 107-mile hike in North Cascades, Washington, and camping out for several weeks at a time in Denali National Park in Alaska. The two were supposed to venture to Mt. Everest base camp and summit the 18,514 foot Kala Patthar, which rests in the Himalayas in Nepal.

Before embarking on more father/son adventures hikes, Jeremy will look to climb the Bruins’ depth chart.

Behind established veterans Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak, ‘Sway’ will compete with touted prospects Daniel Vladar and Kyle Keyser for playing time in the future.

Jeremy’s competitive nature, ever-improving skill, and affable personality lend well for securing a spot in Boston in the not-too-distant future.