Jeremy Swayman isn’t just the man the Boston Bruins need now. He’s the man we all need now.
Swayman is a 22-year-old rookie goaltender from Anchorage who has been nothing short of dazzling and delightful since making his National Hockey League debut on April 6.
Promoted after nine minor-league games because of an injury to one of Boston’s top goalies and a COVID-19 benching for the other, Swayman is like the understudy who delivers in a pinch and goes on to win the Tony Award and the People’s Choice Award.
After posting his first NHL shutout Friday night with a 3-0 win over the New York Islanders, Swayman is 4-1 with a .938 save percentage, a 1.78 goals-against average — and a couple of fans for life.
During warmups for Friday’s game in Boston, a couple of fans held a “Swayman 2024” sign against the glass. Swayman saw it, skated over and paused so the fans could take a selfie with him.
“That’s just the best I could imagine,” Swayman told reporters after the game. “I know I was a fan once when I was a little kid, and I would be so excited when a player acknowledged me. So I just want to give back and I know how much it means to other kids.
“That was a pretty cool sign, they put a lot of effort in that, so kudos to them.”
Shortly after that Swayman got serious to the tune of 25 saves for his third straight win overall, victories that keep the Bruins in the hunt for an East Division playoff spot.
Swayman grew up playing youth hockey in Anchorage and spent two seasons on the South High team before leaving for junior hockey.
About this time last year, he was wrapping up a brilliant college career with the University of Maine, signing a pro contract with the Bruins and heading back to Alaska to wait out pandemic quarantines.
While Swayman was in Anchorage, the Chugach Range was his gym. After high-intensity circuit workouts in the mornings, he went climbing in the afternoons.
“It’s basically been a mountain a day,” he said at the time.
Swayman honors his roots by wearing a mask that has a gold outline of Alaska on the back.
“Alaska’s pretty unique, a unique place to come from, and it’s a big reason why I’m where I’m at now,” he said Friday during a postgame press conference. “The people who supported me and helped me get to where I wanted to be is tremendous.
“When I get to look at the back of helmet before every period that just reminds me and gives me an extra motivation to do my best and make them proud.”
Swayman joined Boston after nine games with the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League, where he was 8-1 with a .933 save percentage and 1.89 goals-against average. In five NHL games, he’s allowed nine goals and made 146 saves, including 40 in his debut, a 4-2 win over the Flyers in Philadelphia on April 6.
During a press conference Saturday, a reporter asked Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy if he’s ever seen a rookie goalie perform so well so fast.
“Not at the NHL level,” Cassidy said.
“You’ve gotta be careful with these young guys, especially at this position,” he continued. “But having said that, this is five games where I don’t believe he has allowed a bad goal.”
Even so, Swayman will take a seat Sunday when Boston plays the Washington Capitals. He’s listed as the backup goalie to regular starter Tuukka Rask, who missed several games with an injury.
Even if Swayman winds up back in the AHL with Providence — where he was expected to spend the whole season — Boston won’t forget about him.
“Just watching him in the game, I don’t see a guy out of position a whole lot,” Cassidy said. “... I see a guy who doesn’t get flustered. He’s not barking at the referees or coming to the bench or whatnot. He just seems very composed in there no matter what happens.
“He gives us a chance to win every night.”
Alaskans in the NHL
(Player, team and date of debut)
Ty Jones, Chicago Blackhawks, Oct. 10, 1998
Scott Parker, Colorado Avalanche, Nov. 28, 1998
Scott Gomez, New Jersey Devils, Oct. 2, 1999
B.J. Young, Detroit Red Wings, Nov. 28, 1999
Brian Swanson, Edmonton Oilers, Oct. 6, 2000
Barrett Heisten, New York Rangers, Oct. 5, 2001
Ty Conklin, Edmonton Oilers, Oct. 16, 2001
Jason Ryznar, New Jersey Devils, Jan. 8, 2006
Matt Carle, San Jose Sharks, March 25, 2006
Nate Thompson, Boston Bruins, Oct. 21, 2006
Brandon Dubinsky, New York Rangers, March 8, 2007
Joey Crabb, Atlanta Thrashers , Nov. 28, 2008
Tim Wallace, Pittsburgh Penguins , Dec. 10, 2008
Justin Johnson, New York Islanders, April 11, 2014
Casey Bailey, Toronto Maple Leafs, March 26, 2015
Phoenix Copley, St. Louis Blues , Feb. 27, 2016
Jeremy Swayman, Boston Bruins, April 6, 2021