Every hockey player that laces up the skates at a young age dream of one day playing in the National Hockey League. Making it to the highest level of hockey takes an intense amount of dedication to the craft while battling through obstacles at any given moment.
The task of earning an NHL spot becomes more difficult for those promising prospects who juggle many aspects of adulthood at such a young age. The pressure to perform at the highest of levels — often times for a brief call up — and the uncertainty of what jersey you’ll be wearing or what city you’ll be sleeping in for your next game can be overwhelming at times.
Boston Bruins forward Anders Bjork worked through this process and knows how challenging it is. The 23-year-old has spent his first three professional seasons toggling between Boston and Providence on assignments due to inconsistent play at times and two consecutive season-ending shoulder injuries.
During his unpredictable stints at both ends of I-95, Bjork never really stayed a permanent residence during the season. Unlike some of his peers that own or rent a house or an apartment in the city, the ex-Notre Dame standout wound up perching at a nearby hotel on a moment’s notice.
“You feel like you’re all over the place, a million things in your car and stuff like that. You are basically living out of it sometimes,” Bjork said. “Not sleeping out of it obviously but it can be tough.”
Bjork noted that it’s par for the territory playing hockey for a living but it can be mentally draining. Yet through all the trials and tribulations, Bjork remained level-headed by realizing how grateful he is to be playing professional hockey.
No one at the minor league level — or eve juniors or the college ranks — truly knows if or when they’ll ever receive a promotion to an NHL team on any given year. Bjork lived through that experience on more than one occasion, including his rookie season when the Bruins called him up in the last minute prior to their tilt with the Senators in Ottawa.
“My first year I got sent down and then called back up, Boston was in Ottawa. We were on the road with Providence and luckily I brought my backpack with my passport even though we were not even going to another country. So luckily I had it or else I wouldn’t have gotten called up,” Bjork said with a chuckle.
Through all the ups and downs in his first two years, the Wisconsin native finally has consistency on and off the ice in Year 3.
Bjork appeared in Boston’s lineup in the last 20 games and has looked every bit the part of a top-nine forward since being recalled on Oct. 22 against Toronto. The speedster has totaled seven points during that stretch, but the biggest growth in his game has been on the walls at both ends of the ice.
Bruce Cassidy and the Bruins coaching staff wanted to see a stronger version of Bjork while emphasizing better puck protection. Bjork, himself, worked on those traits while rehabbing from shoulder surgery during the off-season. His dedication, discipline and attention to detail allowed Bjork to focus on his offensive-minded game, especially along the walls.
“I’ve built a little bit of trust but I think my mindset kind of stays the same. I think it’s worked pretty well for me and I want to continue that and not get too comfortable or anything like that,” Bjork said. “Keep having that hunger to improve and prove myself. Each night show that I can play in this league and I think that hunger is really important.”
Bjork knows that a roster spot, as well as a permanent Boston residence, isn’t a given. Despite his improvements, the talented winger still has to earn his full-time spot. And that’s what he plans to do.
“I want to be a hockey player. That’s my focus,” Bjork said as he pointed to Patrice Bergeron’s and Brad Marchand’s locker room stalls at Warrior Ice Arena.
“You have to realize the other thing is having a solid secure living spot is earned too. You really have to earn that, you have to work really hard for that. It takes a while, you see the older guys and how much work they have put in. You have to respect that and try to emulate that.”
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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