After his second-consecutive season-ending surgery, Anders Bjork watched from the sidelines as the Boston Bruins climbed all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.
The talented 23-year-old Wisconsin native has yet to stick at the NHL level, mainly due to injury. Last year, in particular, put a salty taste in his mouth.
“I was watching these guys play for so long and I obviously wanted to be out there so it motivated me to work hard,” Bjork said about his off-season motivation. “Seeing them battle, I tried to incorporate that into my training and what I can do to better myself in hockey.”
Bjork’s determination has paid dividends through the early portion of Boston’s preseason. With a clean bill of health, the former Notre Dame came into training camp fresh off a two-point effort at last weekend’s Prospects Challenge in Buffalo.
“Well, I think Anders had two strong games,” Bruins GM Don Sweeney said following the showcase in Buffalo.
“There’s nothing to not like [about Bjork’s game], to be honest with you,” Bruce Cassidy said about Bjork’s performance in Western New York.
“The first two nights in Buffalo, I thought he was the most dynamic player for us, and he was good again in the second game. He hit the net a little more with his shots and that’s one area where we encouraged him to [get better] is to get the shot on net first and then get into the corner. I thought he had the puck a lot and he took some hits, which is both good and bad. Because of the injuries, you want to see [the hits] not bother him, but at the same token, you want to see that in a game so he can avoid some of those spots.”
The versatile Bjork, spending most of his time at left wing on Friday, continued his strong start with an impressive showing on the first on-ice day of training camp at Warrior Ice Arena. The 6-foot, 190-pound winger used his explosive speed and a quick first step to win puck battles during drills.
“He looked good again today. Lots of pace,” Cassidy said about Bjork’s first full practice with his teammates since last season. “We put him on the left side today and he played both right [wing] and left for us, so that’s valuable for us that he can work both sides.”
Yes, we’re in the early stages of the preseason, but the former Notre Dame standout showcased encouraging signs with his strides during this brief time period. the very beginning of the preseason.
“It’s nice to be competing again and playing hockey, that’s the thing I enjoy doing so it’s good,” Bjork said. “Obviously a great group of guys here so fun to be learning and competing with them right off the bat. It was a good, high-paced practice so my mentality is just to try and stay solid.”
The Bruins enter the new season with tired legs from the long postseason.
Bjork, who has played just 50 games in two seasons with Boston, knows he is right back in the mix for a roster spot once again.
“Big opportunity here for me so I want to put my best foot forward. Getting a few games in ahead is a good thing just for conditioning and just to see where I am at,” Bjork added. “Coaches have mentioned it in meetings that those guys played such a long season. A guy in my position, if I make the big club, can provide a lot of energy especially at the start of the season.”
It wasn’t an easy road for Bjork to get back in this position, however. He spent the entire summer in Wisconsin with a trainer and two separate physical therapists rehabbing and training his shoulder while strengthening his entire upper body.
Now that he is fully healthy, there are a few roles that Cassidy could assign him. Boston’s fluid lineup will continue until they address the second-line right-wing position. This opens up all options for Bjork to claim a top-nine spot before the start of the regular season.
“I definitely want to be versatile. I think I want to be able to play a third line or fourth line role if I need to be but also a top-six forward,” Bjork added. “When I am playing the right way and being responsible I can have the offensive ability to be a top-six player and if that’s what they need me for I definitely want to be available for that option. I just want to contribute any way that I can.”
Matt is a recent graduate from the Pennsylvania State University with a degree in sports journalism and a minor in business. He currently reports on the Boston Bruins and writes featured stories and game recaps for both Bruins Daily and Boston.com
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