ORONO, Maine — It is more than 4,400 miles from Anchorage, Alaska, to Orono.
But University of Maine freshman goaltender and Anchorage native Jeremy Swayman is just where he wants to be and he is hoping to lead the Black Bears to a dramatic turnaround.
Swayman, who was chosen in the fourth round of the National Hockey League draft by the Boston Bruins in June, will vie for the UMaine starting job with junior Rob McGovern, who posted a 9-15-3 record, a 2.99 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage in 29 games last season.
Sophomore Stephen Mundinger, who appeared in three games last year, is also in the picture.
McGovern and Mundinger have not been drafted.
If the Black Bears are going to climb the Hockey East standings after back-to-back 11th-place finishes, they must receive more consistent play from their goalies.
Over the last three seasons, UMaine hasn’t had a goalie finish higher than 47th nationally in GAA and 32nd in save percentage.
McGovern’s 2.99 GAA ranked 52nd last year and his .912 save percentage was 32nd.
UMaine’s overall team defense hasn’t finished higher than 50th among the nation’s 60 Division I programs during that span. The Black Bears are 33-67-13 overall and 18-42-6 in Hockey East regular-season play over those three seasons. They have allowed 3.47, 3.39 and 3.26 goals per game, respectively.
The 6-foot-2, 183-pound Swayman said he doesn’t feel any pressure coming into the season.
“I want to be here, I feel like I deserve to be here and I’m going to do whatever I can to get a lot better in every category,” said Swayman.
“I just want to get out there and help this team win and move up in the standings,” added Swayman, who posted a 2.90 GAA and a .914 save percentage for the Sioux Falls Stampede of the United States Hockey League last season.
Swayman said he was “excited and really honored” to be drafted by the Bruins and that he is constantly refining his game.
“Every time I’m on the ice, I work on skating as well as tracking the puck. I’m trying new techniques in order to save pucks in more a fashionable and systematic way,” said Swayman.
Swayman has already caught the eye of his teammates but they feel McGovern and Mundinger also are capable of getting the job done.
“[Swayman] adds another level to our goaltending. Each goalie is going to have to fight for minutes,” said junior defenseman Rob Michel. “[Swayman] has looked really good. You can definitely tell he’s mature for his age (19). He’s looking to make that step to the next level so this is a great for him.”
“Goaltending is definitely going to be one of our strengths this year,” said senior defenseman Mark Hamilton. “They will compete the entire year. They will push each other so they will keep getting better and better.”
UMaine senior left wing Nolan Vesey said Swayman has been impressive.
“He will push [McGovern] and that will make for a good one-two punch,” said Vesey.
McGovern and Swayman each attended a Boston Bruins summer camp while Mundinger went to New York Islanders camp.
McGovern (6-4, 220), a native of Weymouth, Massachusetts, registered a 17-26-6 record with a 2.91 GAA and a .910 save percentage in 49 games his first two seasons at UMaine.
“I worked on my skating and little technique stuff … my side-to-side quickness,” said McGovern.
He agreed that the competition between the three of them will be beneficial.
“All three of us are capable of doing the job,” said McGovern. “There will be good competition between us and that’s what we need.”
McGovern said he and his teammates are “sick and tired of losing. We want to change that this year. We all put in the work this summer.”
Mundinger (6-8, 236), who is from Smithtown, New York, said even though he didn’t play much a year ago, it was a useful season.
“I feel more comfortable because I know what to expect this year,” said Mundinger. “I did a lot of things (to prepare) this summer. I did some high altitude training in Colorado and went to Canada a bunch of times.”
Fifth-year UMaine head coach Red Gendron is confident goaltending is going to be good and noted that having former UMaine and NHL goalie Alfie Michaud as a full-time coach this season will be helpful. He was a volunteer part-time goalie coach last season.
“Rob McGovern has played a lot of great games for us, he has had a lot of great stretches the past two seasons. And we really think Jeremy Swayman is going to be an excellent goalkeeper. Stephen Mundinger has a chance to elevate himself so we really like our goaltending,” said Gendron.
He said the substandard stats are reflective of his team’s overall “malaise in terms of team defense.”
The goaltending situation will be decided by the goalies’ play.
“They are going to tell us who should be playing. It’s really no more complicated than that,” said Gendron, whose Black Bears host Acadia University of Nova Scotia in a 4 p.m. exhibition game on Sunday.