Nick Swaney did not have much time to mourn the end of his college career last week following Minnesota Duluth’s overtime loss to eventual national champion Massachusetts at the 2021 NCAA Frozen Four in Pittsburgh.
With the window of opportunity to play his first professional hockey game closing fast — and COVID-19 protocols to navigate — the Bulldogs’ senior assistant captain and two-time national champion was on the phone with his agent and the Minnesota Wild after arriving back in Duluth on Friday.
By Sunday, the Lakeville, Minnesota, native and 2017 seventh-round draft pick of the Wild had himself a one-year entry-level contract that begins with the 2021-22 season, plus an amateur tryout agreement (ATO) to start his professional hockey career this spring with the American Hockey League’s Iowa Wild.
“It was a very quick turnaround,” Swaney said. “I had to switch my mindset very quick, which was tough to do after losing. It was a good process. Now we’re here and ready to go.”
Swaney planned to travel to Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday to join the Wild’s top minor league affiliate on this weekend’s road trip to Michigan for a series against the top affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Swaney has been quarantining at his parents’ home in Lakeville while getting tested by the Wild at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul in hopes he can make his professional debut soon. Swaney said he is unsure if his debut will come in Grand Rapids or not since he won’t get to practice with the team prior to Friday and Saturday’s games.
The Iowa Wild, sitting fourth in the Central Division, have 11 games left in their regular season following Tuesday’s home contest against the Rockford Icehogs. The AHL has not announced any plans for a postseason in 2020-21.
Swaney spoke with Matt Wellens, co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the News Tribune and The Rink Live, on Tuesday before departing for Iowa to discuss not only signing with the Wild, but to take a look back at his time at UMD.
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Growing up in the Twin Cities, playing college hockey in Duluth, what did it mean to sign with the Minnesota Wild of all teams?
It's pretty special. Growing up in the Twin Cities, watching the Wild growing up, going to games, just dreaming one day that maybe I get the chance to play. Now things have come full circle, and it's just been pretty, pretty surreal. I'm looking forward to the opportunity.
Is there a comfort level of signing with the Wild and starting this process because they are the hometown team, and you’ve been through their development camps now for a number of years?
Since I’ve been drafted, it's been four years. It's felt like a long time. I've really gotten to know the development guys and everyone in the organization. They've done such a good job of helping me, talking me through games and just keeping in touch with me throughout my seasons. I think for sure there's a comfort level, and it's been good. I'm looking to continue that.
Go back four years ago to when you first stepped onto the UMD campus and when you arrived at Amsoil. What do you remember about your first day as a Bulldog?
It feels like yesterday, but at the same time, it did feel so long ago. I remember getting to Oakland, moving my stuff into the apartments, and then all the freshmen headed over to one of the houses. I think the memories with all the guys is something that I’ll remember forever. It's crazy that four years ago was the start of my time in Duluth.
What is your favorite on-ice moment from your four years as a Bulldog? I know this is a tough question for your class.
I'd probably say the national championship my freshman year. It's tough to beat the first one, I think, and especially just being at the X. All those fans cheering for us, that was my favorite on-ice moment, for sure.
Nick Swaney gives UMD a double OT win at the NCHC Frozen Four pic.twitter.com/ohpT5cISEP— CJ Fogler #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) March 24, 2019
What is your favorite off-ice moment from your time at UMD?
“That's a really hard question. I mean, there's so many moments that you don't even think about, but you look back on now. It's tough. I guess maybe moving into a hockey house with all the guys and kind of just being in the same place for four years. It's tough; it's tough to pick one moment and say that's my favorite because there's so many good ones off the ice.
What ranks among the top ones, if you can’t pick just one?
A good one last year, it was Jade Miller’s senior year, so we made a Christmas card and sent it out. We call our house “The Bucket,” so we took a nice picture with our Christmas sweaters on, and we sent it out to a bunch of people. I think that moment is pretty cool. There's so many moments like that at the time, you don't even really think that they're going to be memorable. But now you look back, and it's pretty special.
What teacher or staff member at UMD had a dramatic impact on your time here?
Behind the scenes, (academic advisor) Laura Schnell and (faculty athletic representative) Dr. (Stephen) Castleberry — they do so many things behind the scenes that not many people really see. We wouldn't be able to be playing hockey without our school, and they do such a good job of just making sure that we're on track and helping us if we have any concerns or questions or anything. Both of those people do such an amazing job.
With the exception of Matt Cairns, who is already working on a master's degree, you seemed to have the best idea of what you’d do academically with a fifth year among your senior classmates. You talked on the Bulldog Insider Podcast earlier this season about pursuing UMD’s one-year MBA program. Is that something that is still in the cards for you?
I think at that moment, I didn't really know anything was for sure, so I wanted to make sure that no matter what was going to happen, I was going to be in a comfortable spot. I honestly just kind of wanted to see what was available for if I did take a fifth year. It's not something that's going to be on my mind right now to get my MBA, but maybe down the road. We’ll see how my hockey career goes from here. I don't think it's ever out of the question.
Want to get to know the Bulldogs more? Check out the Bulldog Insider Podcast at DuluthNewsTribune.com, TheRinkLive.com, Apple Podcasts or Spotify for the complete archive of episodes from the 2020-21 season and prior. Also subscribe to the Bulldog Insider email newsletter to keep pace with the Bulldogs men’s and women’s hockey programs this season.