It had been a while since both Matt Beleskey and Anders Bjork had seen ice time.
Beleskey, at the time of his conditioning demotion (after clearing waivers) on Dec. 14 only played in 14 games. Bjork, all the while, was a healthy scratch during Boston’s last two games before being sent down to Providence on Jan. 3.
The goal for both when they arrived in Providence: to get back in the lineup, get minutes and regain confidence.
Upon their respective arrivals, both Beleskey and Bjork have eaten up ice time, all while contributing to the first-place Providence Bruins. Bjork has gotten off to great start, collecting four points (three goals and an assist) in three games for the P-Bruins while Beleskey has three goals in nine games.
When Beleskey first came to Boston prior to the 2015-16 season, many expected to see a physical, power-forward type that can provide both physicality and skill to the lineup. His first season was relatively solid. Beleskey had 37 points (15 goals, 22 assists) to go along with 65 penalty minutes and a plus-6 rating in 80 games.
Over time, however, Beleskey’s production and ice time diminished, eventually leading to his demotion in order to get his confidence back again.
“I’m here to work on what I need to work on and that’s to play physical and my style of hockey,” Beleskey said after Providence’s 4-3 home loss to the Syracuse Crunch this past Sunday afternoon, “It was a bit of an adjustment [coming down to Providence and skating again] but tonight was one of the stronger nights. Unfortunately, it was a tough bounce for us, but it’s a process and I just have to keep working hard.”
It was a stronger night indeed for Beleskey on Sunday, as he made his mark on the score sheet. At 12:51 of the first period, Beleskey, who tallied four shots on goal against Syracuse, pulled the trailing P-Bruins even on a turnaround shot from the top of the faceoff circle beating netminder Connor Ingram low glove-side.
Beleskey is also showing his physical side; exactly what Boston’s front office was hoping he starts to pick back up again. A clear showing of said physicality came in Providence’s game against the Belleville Senators on Dec. 30 when Beleskey dropped the gloves with Andreas Englund.
Potting goals and winning fights is certainly a formula to return to Boston and, thus far, Beleskey is starting to find a consistent balance of both. All the while, he is also bringing some veteran leadership to a young Providence team currently sitting in first place in the Atlantic Division.
While Beleskey is in the midst of finding his power-skating form, Bjork has enjoyed a resurgence in production now that he is seeing some ice time.
The 2014 fourth-round pick cracked Boston’s opening night lineup after three seasons at Notre Dame. Bjork started off relatively strong, collecting seven points (three goals, four assists) in his first nine games, but went pointless in his next four games. Bjork notched an assist in back to back games on Nov. 6 and Nov. 8, but from then on would only record, on average, one point over four games.
At the time of his demotion, the rookie notched 12 points (four goals, eight assists) with a plus-2 rating 28 games into his National Hockey League career.
Bjork, it seems, has responded well to being sent down. Like Beleskey, Bjork also found the back of the net on Sunday. Just past the halfway point of the second period and with Providence moving the puck in the Syracuse zone while on the power play, Bjork took a cross-ice pass from Rob O’gara and fired a slap shot past Ingram to give the P-Bruins a 3-2 lead.
Earlier in the second, with the Baby B’s down 2-1, Bjork played a role in Peter Cehlarik’s game-tying goal, though he would not appear on the score sheet. Bjork rushed the puck into the Syracuse zone before dishing it off to Tommy Cross. The P-Bruins captain hit Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, who then slid the puck along to Cehlarik for the one-timer.
Bjork may not have been credited with a point, but his rush into the offensive zone certainly kickstarted the scoring play.
“I’m never going to be able to coach offensive instincts and scoring, I’ll leave him to that. He clearly doesn’t need any help in that department,” Providence head coach Jay Leach said of Bjork’s four-point weekend. “I do think he showed some improvements in some areas with regards to taking care of pucks and also being aware of where he was on the ice and not putting himself in situations that have, in the past, hurt him.”
Matt Beleskey and Anders Bjork have shown flashes of the very type of players the big club had hoped they would be. As their confidence increases, so too could their time on ice — not just in Providence, but quite possibly in Boston.