How Anders Bjork built himself back into a top Bruins prospect

Matt Kalman
October 01, 2019 - 8:44 am

Anders Bjork hit the ice with the Providence Bruins on Monday after just missing out on the opening night roster for the Boston Bruins.

The 23-year-old veteran of 50 NHL games over the past two seasons may not be starting the 2019-20 season where he wants on the ice, but on the list of Bruins prospects closest to making an impact at the NHL, he has moved to No. 1.

That’s a major accomplishment for a left-shooting wing eight months removed from his second major shoulder surgery in as many seasons. The rehabilitation since the second surgery last January was a physical grind, but the Bruins and Bjork found a way to make sure it wasn’t as much of a mental grind.

“I took a couple classes back at Notre Dame, which is good, I’m much closer to my degree now and got to focus on that, kind of try to become a little smarter,” Bjork told days before he was assigned to Providence.

Bjork didn’t just take some classes online as many players, including several teammates, have done in the past. He actually reported to South Bend, Indiana, enrolled, and was in macroeconomics, marketing and psychology classes with the underclassmen, including several he knew when he was starring for the Fighting Irish from 2014-2017 before he left after his junior year.

The Bruins wanted to make sure Bjork didn’t get discouraged while working his way back to health.

“Obviously Anders has been part of our organization for a long time, and knowing the family, knowing the core values that they had in their connection to Notre Dame was important,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said. “It was a very, very drawn-out decision for him to leave. I don’t think we as an organization ever lost sight of that, and he was dealt a tough hand, twice. And I think it just represented a really unique opportunity that if we felt that his rehab would go the right way, was set up accordingly, and being touched, it would be kind of a win-win.

“You know I just sat down with [president> Cam [Neely> and the organization kind of said, ‘why not.’ The timing worked out. It was an ideal in a sense, not for the fact that he got hurt, but the fact that he could enroll and be quick about it. So for me, it represented a great opportunity for him.”

Bjork took advantage of life back on campus. Head strength and conditioning coach Tony Rolinski and associate athletic trainer Kevin Ricks worked Bjork’s body back into shape. Bjork pulled within four classes, all electives, of his degree – which he plans to complete sometime in the next couple years. And psychology professor Anre Venter helped Bjork work on his mind.

Venter isn’t a sports psychologist per se, but some of his methods helped Bjork make the most of his rehab time and will continue to impact Bjork on his path back to the NHL.

“One thing we worked on that was kind of interesting, or he suggested and we talked about, because I was doing a lot of rehab and weight training and stuff like and I couldn’t be on the ice and I couldn’t even stick handle and stuff like that for a while. So it was like … building your habit of focus in rehab in the gym, to focus like you’re on the ice about that rep,” Bjork explained. “Think about how your body’s moving, so like thinking how’s a play developing on the ice. So just kind of getting that focus down, so it’s kind of cool.

“He came up with a lot of stuff like that to try to work on it.”

Bjork couldn’t have had a better camp coming from where he came from. He was a threat every shift and finished with two assists in four preseason games. He made it difficult for Sweeney to make the decision that was made Sunday.

“He had a very good camp. It was a tough conversation [Sunday>, I think he sees the big picture of things and getting himself back to being the offensive player that he’s capable of being,” Sweeney said. “He was in on a lot of chances, and creating some, but had a tough time finishing them off and he’s missed a lot of hockey. So I think for the most part it sends him off with a positive mindset and the camp that he has had.”

Bjork came out of his latest bout with adversity a better athlete and a better person. When he fulfills his goal of becoming a full-time NHL player, everything he has gone through will have been worth it. He knows his pursuit of that goal is never going to be easy, but he’s better prepared physically and mentally now to handle it thanks to his time back at school.

“I want to have as little hiccups as possible. Guys I’ve talked to, you feel it a little bit. It takes a year to get to full [health> where you don’t notice that,” Bjork said. “So I’m pleased with where it’s been, I’m also expecting a little bit of setbacks and stuff.”