Watching a player like Notre Dame’s Anders Bjork dominate the Northeast Regional the way that he did, it can be easy to forget that he didn’t arrive on campus as a finished product.
Yes, he had the pedigree of an alum of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, and was a draft pick of the Boston Bruins. And he had a good freshman season, recording 22 points.
But Bjork didn’t arrive on campus like a Jack Eichel, who was the Hockey East Rookie (and Player) of the Year that season. Instead he has steadily progressed into an Eichel-type who can take over games the way he did 10 days ago in Manchester.
Now Bjork heads to Chicago as the top-scoring player in the Frozen Four with 52 points on the year. He was a first-team All-Hockey East selection and one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award.
Getting to that level has been a process, and Bjork’s development is a credit to him – and the entire Notre Dame program.
“I think I’ve become stronger and a lot more confident,” Bjork said when asked to compare his game now to his freshman season. “That’s thanks to the great staff we have at Notre Dame. Also my teammates pushing me and pushing each other each day in practice and in the weight room. It’s a great organization we have and a great group of guys. We make each other better.”
The Notre Dame coaches are quick to point out Bjork’s role in the process.
“Ultimately every player is responsible for their own development and he takes that very seriously,” assistant coach Andy Slaggert said. “He’s going to find out what his potential is, he’s not going to get cheated.”
Bjork has benefitted from the opportunities available to him at Notre Dame. The six-year-old Compton Family ice Arena, like many college facilities, gives players constant access to state-of-the-art weight rooms, shooting bays, video rooms and additional ice time.
“When we planned the team space, we put a lot of emphasis on player development,” head coach Jeff Jackson said. “We have a weight room, a cardio room, rehab and medical facilities, a team meeting room. We’ve got shooting bays so that guys can come in and work on their shooting on or off the ice, even jumping in there between classes.”
Bjork, it seems, hasn’t missed a stop in that facility tour.
“I think he’s really driven, internally,” Slaggert said. “He does the work in the weight room, he shoots pucks after practice, he goes in the shooting range, he’s on the bike. It didn’t happen by accident for Anders.”
The results have been impressive. Only T.J. Tynan (54 points in 2010-11) has had a more productive season under Jackson at Notre Dame, and Bjork could match that total with two more points in Chicago. He scored or had the primary assist on the Irish’s last five goals in the Northeast Regional.
Bjork came to campus with promise, but had accelerated his high school classwork and arrived just weeks after his 18th birthday. He was still raw, but eager to develop.
“He’s not a big ego kid, which sometimes happens with really talented players,” Jackson said. “He’s still young, age-wise is almost like a sophomore. He’s still growing up as a kid and he’s got the right character and attitude to be great for us in many situations. He does a lot of things to help us win.”
Sophomore Andrew Oglevie finished off Bjork’s feed for the overtime goal that sent Notre Dame to the Frozen Four. His freshman-to-sophomore year improvement – plus-16 goals and 32 points – is even more impressive than Bjork’s was (5 goals, 13 points).
It’s clear that Bjork has made a big impression on his sophomore classmate, who is actually a year and a half older than him.
“I think everyone in the locker room knows that Anders is probably one of the most special players in college hockey,” Oglevie said. “Being able to play with him is an honor for me and I’m sure most in the locker room. Playing with him, fun things happen. He’s fast, he’s got great vision, and he’s always in attack mode.”
Developing into a special player like that has taken time and effort. It has brought Bjork from a fifth-round NHL draft pick to one of the Bruins’ top prospects in less than three years.
It’s also put him within two wins of a national championship as the Irish descend on United Center.