Jeremy Swayman was a dreamer in Alaska. He was a student in Maine. On Tuesday, he became a big-leaguer in Philadelphia.
The 22-year-old goaltender, who left the University of Maine last spring after three glittering seasons and signed with the Bruins, made 40 stops in his NHL debut against the Flyers.
They went with Swayman rather than overextend Dan Vladar, who started Monday. Jaroslav Halak, who is in COVID protocol, remains day to day. He is not on the road trip. Tuukka Rask, who traveled with the team, is not ready to return.
Swayman’s journey from Anchorage to Orono — some 4,460 miles across the continent, with stops in the American midwest in between — was a lot longer than his rise from Providence to Boston. Last spring, he was named college hockey’s top goaltender, winning the Mike Richter Award, and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker.
After beating the Flyers, 4-2, and surviving a 25-shot barrage in the second period, Swayman had a lot of people to thank: his family, “my dad [Ken] most of all,” the coaching staffs at Maine [assistants Alfie Michaud and Ben Guite] and with the Bruins [Bob Essensa and Mike Dunham].
“You can’t make a long enough list to get to this level,” said Swayman, believed to be the 14th player (and second goalie, joining Pheonix Copley) from the 49th state. “Everyone’s got a unique story, and mine especially, coming from Alaska, a small town with not too many guys who make it to NHL — to be a part of that group now is one day I’ve always dreamed of.”
As a first-year AHLer, Swayman allowed 17 goals in nine games (1.89 GAA) and stopped .933 percent of shots, ranking third in the league in both categories. He won 8 of 10 games (8-1-1). One unique factor presented by this COVID season: Swayman, whose most recent game was March 31, has only faced two opponents in Providence’s realigned division (Bridgeport and Hartford). Neither happens to be affiliated with the Flyers.
“You’re going to get your first game sooner or later,” coach Bruce Cassidy said before puck drop. I don’t think he’s thinking too far ahead about that. He’s thinking about making his first save and the next save after that.”
The Bruins, hoping to develop a successor to Rask, drafted Swayman in the fourth round (111th overall) in 2017, out of the USHL (Sioux Falls). Two years before, they took Vladar, then a Czech junior, in the third round (75th overall).
In short viewing windows in practices and in Providence games, Cassidy saw in Swayman a technically sound, active, very competitive goalie. When Vladar made his first NHL start in Pittsburgh on March 16, “there was a long discussion” about whether he or Swayman should go.
Patrice Bergeron declared afterward that the future of Boston’s goaltending is “bright.” In a playoff race, in a run of five games in seven nights and two rookies punching the clock, they need the future to arrive now.
“I enjoyed every second of it,” Swayman said of his debut. “That’s what a lot of the vets told me, especially Tuuks … ‘Enjoy it, it’s once in a lifetime.’
“I absolutely love this game. To do it on the biggest stage, with the best players in the world, how can you not have fun doing that? It was fun. It was fun.”
Strong return for Miller
Swayman was playing behind a compromised back end. While Kevan Miller (right knee) looked strong in his return from a 20-game absence, the Bruins announced shortly before puck drop that No. 1 workhorse Charlie McAvoy was unavailable because of an upper-body injury.
No further information on McAvoy’s condition was immediately known. Cassidy did not have an update afterward, calling No. 73 “day to day.”
McAvoy, widely considered a Norris Trophy candidate, is arguably the most important player on the roster. The No. 1 defenseman leads the Bruins’ back line in points (4-18—22) despite playing secondary power-play time, and is averaging a team-high 24:23 per night.
His absence put Miller on the top pair in his return, next to Matt Grzelcyk. The veteran was on the ice to kill the Flyers’ late 6 on 5 along with Jeremy Lauzon, the rookie who rebounded after penalty trouble on Monday. Lauzon contributed a shorthanded assist on a Brad Marchand goal.
“He had good composure with the puck,” Cassidy said of Miller, noting how that area has been a challenge for his younger teammates. “As advertised. Really nice to have him back in the lineup.”
Jakub Zboril and Steve Kampfer were the second pair, with Lauzon and Connor Clifton the third.
Wagner makes his case
Fourth-line winger Chris Wagner came out of mothballs, after five consecutive healthy scratches (nine in the last 12). Cassidy said issues with pace and puck management led to Wagner’s stint in the press box.
Wagner had an assist, four hits, and a blocked shot in 10:34, and more importantly, earned a shift with Marchand and Bergeron in the final two minutes, the Bruins playing 5 on 6, before Marchand’s empty-netter.
“Chris deserved it,” Cassidy said. “Willing to do what it takes to keep the puck out of the net. Protecting a lead is where he can help us.”
That wasn’t the case for the Nick Ritchie-David Krejci-David Pastrnak second line. Cassidy said he “shortened the bench a little for guys that are willing to check and manage pucks and play the right way to help our goaltender” in the third period.
That trio skated three shifts in the third, while the other lines logged between six and 10.