Any hockey coach will tell you that if you don’t have talented goaltending, you’re going nowhere.
That was the case with UMaine the last few seasons, as the Black Bears finished near the bottom of Hockey East.
Enter Jeremy Swayman.
A sign that the Bears could’ve had their first blue-chip goalie since Scott Darling, who unfortunately had to overcome some personal issues before resurrecting his career, occurred when the Boston Bruins selected the Anchorage, Alaska, native in the fourth round of last summer’s NHL draft.
Early in the season, Swayman split time with junior Rob McGovern before deservedly winning the job.
The 19-year-old posted a respectable 13-10-3 record, a .920 save percentage and 2.76 goals-against average in helping Maine finish sixth in Hockey East – the Bears were picked to finish last in the 11-team league – and earn a first-round home playoff series.
Sports fans, as we all know, are a fickle bunch. Especially in New England. A few times, social media posts would hint at re-inserting McGovern when Swayman had a bad outing or two.
But let’s be realistic. Maine is likely a last-place or a 10th-place team without Swayman’s efforts. At times, he’s covered up some defensive efficiencies.
Just before Thanksgiving, McGovern got the nod against Boston University in Portland. He let in 7 goals. He was also off against ECAC bottom-feeder Brown in January, and the Bears could only escape from Providence with a tie in a game they probably win handily if Swayman is between the pipes.
This is by no means any disrespect to McGovern. He has been a very serviceable goaltender who showed his talents in a big way in his first start against North Dakota in the 2015 IceBreaker tournament in Portland. He’s a great teammate and has improved vastly over his time in Orono.
But Swayman gives Maine the best chance to win. He’s a vital part of this young team that has a talented corps of freshmen and sophomores, and with Tuukka Rask not going anywhere for a while, expect to see Swayman in Orono for at least two more seasons.
Red Gendron, Ben Guite and Alfie Michaud are good coaches and will let Swayman continue to develop. Goaltenders have a way of improving in their time at Maine. Swayman has been good this year but we haven’t seen his best yet.
And considering the pipeline of recruits coming to Orono in the next couple years, that’s great news for Maine fans.
By: Ryan McLaughlin