Manchester, N.H. – As Anders Bjork zigzagged between two defenders from below the goal line in overtime, there was a feeling something great was about to happen.
Bjork found a wide-open Andrew Oglevie who buried the puck into the back of the net to send the Fighting Irish to the 2017 Frozen Four in Chicago.
“I remember Anders had the puck on his stick, and I was just standing in the slot and I hoped he’d pass it. He did and I just hit it as hard as I could and luckily for us it went in,” said Oglevie.
“I remember getting the puck and I know he (Andrew Oglevie) was open for about 15 seconds there, it felt like, so I finally gave it to him and he put it in like he always seems to do,” Bjork added.
Bjork assisted on all three Notre Dame goals in the team’s 3-2 win over UMass Lowell in the Northeast Regional Final at the SNHU Arena. The fourth-seeded Fighting Irish upset both top teams in the region en route to the program’s third Frozen Four appearance.
“Coming in here as a four-seed, no one expected us to get out of the first game or win this thing at all. We all couldn’t believe it. It’s exciting. We’re realizing we’re not done yet.”
Bjork’s three assists came just a day after scoring two goals, including the game-winner in the team’s comeback win over top-seeded Minnesota. There was little doubt who deserved the Most Outstanding Player of the Northeast Regional.
Bjork is making it look like the Boston Bruins picked up a draft day steal when selecting him in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL Draft. The U.S. NTDP alum has steadily increased his offensive production. He has 21 goals and 31 assists in 38 games played so far this season.
Bjork, a junior from Mequon, Wis., isn’t the biggest player on the ice, but he has a dynamic offensive skill set which allows him to play bigger.
It doesn’t take long to notice his shiftiness. He can dart in and out of defensemen. He has that second gear that allows him to explode down the outside and blow by defenders in his way. What also really stands out is how quick his stick is. It helps him win those puck battles and get shots off rapidly.
His hockey sense and the way he can slow things down are also impressive traits. On the overtime winner, he was able to let the play come to him. He showed poise with the puck to draw defenders and allow Oglevie time to get in position for an easy one-timer. On the first goal, a breakaway score by Cam Morrison, he read a play in the neutral zone to pick off an errant pass. He then gave a tremendous feed that led Morrison perfectly.
Passing is something that has always come easy to Bjork, but his goal scoring touch has improved. He went from seven goals as a freshman to 12 as a sophomore. A summer spent honing his shooting skills has helped him nearly double that total this year.
“I focused a lot on my shot and goal scoring ability because it was something I wasn’t great at. I worked on shooting and one-timers over the summer to get that pop on my shot.”
As the points have continued to pile up, the attention other teams are paying to Bjork has ramped up. He’s a marked man when he’s on the ice and has had to take other team’s best shot at preventing him from finding the score sheet.
“He has had a tough second half. He has been isolated and lots of people are putting heavy hits on him and trying to take him out of the game,” said Jackson.
“He’s fought through it and still been able to contribute in a number of different ways. It isn’t just about his scoring ability. He kills penalties. You don’t win without your best players playing at their best at the most important moments of the year,” Jackson continued.
Oglevie isn’t always on the ice with Bjork, but the sophomore is one of many Irish players who have benefited from playing with the Hobey Baker candidate. Oglevie’s overtime goal was his 21st of the season, 16 more than he had last year as a freshman.
“I think everyone in the locker room knows that Anders is probably one of the most special players in college hockey,” Oglevie began.
“Being able to play with him is an honor for me. Playing with him, fun things happen offensively. He’s fast. He’s got great vision and he’s always in attack mode. It’s really fun to play with Anders. I love him,” Oglevie continued with a big grin.
Bjork has taken advantage of all the opportunities presented to him at Notre Dame, including a strength program that is one of the best in college hockey. His stamina was on display as he was double-shifted and logging a ton of minutes.
“We have a great strength program at Notre Dame, so all of us are in good shape. I was just trying to get out there and do my best and do the little things right and help our team win,” said Bjork.
“Anders has a tendency to stay on the ice a little longer… But I’ve said this about [goaltender] Cal Peterson too, if you got horses you play them,” said Jackson.
Bjork has stayed at Notre Dame over the summers to take classes and workout with teammates, something that has helped serve as extra motivation during grueling sessions in the gym.
“That’s a credit to Notre Dame. Our coaches are always working with us over the summer. The guys on the team, we push each other a lot. It’s helped everyone get stronger, better and more confident on the ice. It’s a huge reason for our success,” Bjork said.
Recently, it was announced that Bjork was one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, presented annually to the top player in college hockey. He became just the second player ever to be a finalist for that award and the Hockey Humanitarian Award in the same year.
As the recognition continues, Bjork has done his best to keep the individual accolades on the backburner and focus on the team first.
“There’s a ton of great players in the NCAA so I don’t even know if I’m in the running,” Bjork said humbly. “We’re just focused on the Frozen Four and our next game [against Denver on April 6],” said Bjork.
Bjork, one of five finalists for the Hockey Humanitarian, has volunteered his time at the Perley Fine Arts Academy in South Bend, Ind. He has helped mentor children, interacting and offering advice to students in the inner-city school.
“It’s an honor to get nominated for the Hockey Humanitarian Award. It’s definitely nice to get recognized especially for the kids I volunteer with so they’re getting attention. They don’t get a lot of that and they’ve enjoyed that,” said Bjork.
Bjork credits his parents, including his father Kirt who was an All-American hockey player at Notre Dame.
“A lot it is in part to my parents who raised me and made that an important part of my life. The university makes it so easy to help others,” Bjork said.
While there is at least one more game in Bjork’s future as a Notre Dame hockey player, the Boston Bruins organization is confident his future will be bright even after his playing days in a Fighting Irish uniform.