Having lost five of its regular seven defensemen due to graduation or early pro signings, the University of Maine hockey team came into this season with only one defenseman with more than 36 career games under his belt.
That defenseman is transfer J.D. Greenway, who had played 46 games in two seasons University of Wisconsin and competed last season in the United States Hockey League.
That meant junior goaltender Jeremy Swayman, a Boston Bruins fourth-round draft choice, would have to hold the fort until his defense corps gained experience.
That is exactly what he has done.
Since giving up seven goals — and making 52 saves — in a season-opening 7-0 loss at Providence, Swayman has posted a 1.22 goals-against average and .962 save percentage over the last six games. His play has helped UMaine post a 4-2 record going into a Friday-Saturday home Hockey East series against 2-1-2 Boston University.
Swayman credits his defense for making his life easier.
“They’re just giving up shots from the outside and they’re clearing rebounds for me,” Swayman said. “And the communication aspect of things is a lot better than in the past. We talk to each other more and make sure we’re on the same page.”
He explained that the youthful defense corps is adhering to the system as it learns the ropes of college hockey.
“I knew we had a good group of kids coming in and they’ve definitely impressed me. They’ve made a lot of strides from the first game until now,” Swayman said.
Swayman was named to the All-Hockey East Rookie Team two years ago and was an all-league third-team pick last season.
Providence College coach Nate Leaman considers him one of the top goalies in the league.
“He’s quick, he’s athletic and he has very good feet,” he said. “You have to make the game hard on him or he will make it hard on you.”
Swayman boasts the nation’s 11th-best save percentage (.940) among goalies from the 60 Division I schools and his goals against average of 2.20 is 21st.
“He is someone who works hard every day and is always on top of everything,” UMaine head coach Red Gendron said. “He is patient enough to stay focused on the task at hand. He doesn’t get ahead of himself.”
The native of Anchorage, Alaska, finished with a 2.77 GAA and a .919 save percentage during an up-and-down 2018-2019 season in which he played 35 of UMaine’s 36 games.
Swayman’s 1,071 saves ranked fourth in the country.
“There were a lot of positives last year, particularly in the mental aspect,” said Swayman, who learned a considerable amount about preparation and recovery.
He said he tries to always stay in the moment.
“I don’t worry about the next shot or the one that already happened,” Swayman said. “I’ve had a calm demeanor.“
The 6-foot-2, 183-pounder knows the Black Bears will have their hands full against a talented BU team that is averaging four goals per game and has 12 National Hockey League draft choices on its roster.
“We love playing BU, especially at home,” Swayman said. “It will be a battle. They like to shoot from everywhere.”