When Jeremy Swayman reached out to his goalie coach up in Maine, Alfie Michaud, earlier this week to tell him he was making his NHL debut, only one of the parties was nervous.
And it wasn’t Sawyman.
“I know I was nervous. Talking to Sway, he wasn’t nervous at all. He was really excited about the opportunity,” Michaud told NESN.com over the phone Friday afternoon. “My job as the old goalie coach is to have the nerves, because you just never know. I’d be a liar if I told you I knew he was going to go in there and stand on his head. I didn’t know. I knew he had the ability to, but, again, that’s the National Hockey League. That’s why it’s the best hockey league in the world.”
Michaud knows Swayman better than most.
A former pro goalie himself with a two games of experience in the NHL, Michaud has been working as a full-time assistant coach for the Black Bears since 2017, which was Swayman’s first season in Orono, Maine. With Michaud having an emphasis on goaltending, he worked closely with Swayman for years.
So it’s little surprise that when the 22-year-old found out he was getting the call Tuesday against the Philadelphia Flyers, one of the people he reached out to was Michaud.
“You’re happy for him,” Michaud said. “Every kid’s dream is to put on a National Hockey League jersey, any hockey player growing up. So, you’re definitely excited for him that his dream is coming true, and then the nerves kick in.”
Now, Swayman has two games of NHL experience under his belt, both wins, the most recent coming Thursday against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. He’ll be back in net Saturday against the Flyers.
One of the points of emphasis for Michaud when he had Swayman in college was quieting his game down. The Anchorage, Alaska, native is aggressive naturally, but there’s a certain point for netminders, especially young ones facing pro players for the first time, that the aggressiveness can go too far.
Michaud found that Swayman was a little cleaner and controlled against Washington.
“I thought the first game he was really aggressive, but at the same time it probably surprised some guys,” Michaud said. “There were some guys that got some good looks on him, and he shot out at them. He definitely saw later in the game they started moving pucks on him East-West or trying to pass it by him, but I thought he adjusted really well.
“… (Thursday) I thought his game was just much more controlled. He was in his area, in his space he needed to get to (and) he fought hard to fight pucks. … And when he did leave a mess, he’s got great players in front of him to make sure they got the puck out of harm’s way.”
One thing that’s striking about Swayman is how poised he is. Michaud mentioned last year that the netminder exudes confidence, and that really has been on full display this week in just about every way.
On the ice, he seems comfortable, playing his game with conviction and with a smile on his face often. Off the ice, particularly with how he handles the media, he’s thoughtful.
Michaud has a theory on where that might come from.
“His dad’s a doctor,” Michaud pointed out. “He gets into surgeries and he’s a confident guy. They’re humble people, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but you see your dad — I can only imagine if you’re a doctor and going into surgeries, you’ve got to have some confidence in what you do — and I’m sure Sway saw that growing up.”
That mutual respect could go a long, long way.
“He plays for his teammates, and that’s a big thing,” Michaud said. “And then it’s reciprocated, you hear the quotes from those veteran guys, and it sounds like they’re playing for him, too. So that makes for a really solid foundation as a goaltender.”
Swayman made 40 saves in his debut, and 31 more Wednesday — and they weren’t just point shots with no traffic in front of the net.
So far, he’s 12-of-13 on high-danger chances against, according to Natural Stat Trick, and has posted a 2.01 goals against average, which is pretty remarkable since the expected goals against are 5.41.
From Tim Thomas to Tuukka Rask, the Bruins long have enjoyed having goalies that make more than just the saves you should to make. That was Swayman’s calling card in college.
“He’s doing what he’s supposed to do,” Michaud said. “All you can do is make the save you’re supposed to make, but he has the ability to maybe make the saves you’re not supposed to make. That’s what made him special at Maine, and we hope that continues for him at the next level. …
“He’s a young kid playing in the best league in the world, and I thought he handed himself really well.”