BostonBruins.com - On the surface, having to travel across the globe to participate in one of the world's most prominent hockey tournaments may not seem like the ideal time to slow things down and get some thinking done.
But it turn outs that was just what Anders Bjork needed to make one of the most important decisions of his life.
Once his junior season at Notre Dame ended in April at the NCAA Frozen Four, the highly touted prospect had to decide between returning to school for his senior campaign or signing his first professional contract with the Bruins.
"It was really tough," said Bjork. "There are a lot of factors and I wasn't really sure. I just wanted to make the right choice for my hockey career, but I also had to think a lot about my degree and school and stuff like that…there was a lot going on in my head.
"I didn't know what the right choice was…I definitely wasn't ready to make a decision right away."
So Bjork took his thoughts to the 2017 IIHF Men's World Championship, where he represented the United States and played in five games for the Red, White, and Blue. It was during his time in Germany that he came to a conclusion: he was going to turn pro.
"I think the World Championship experience was a good one, especially for that, because it gave me time to think," said Boston's 2014 fifth-round pick. "Obviously, I was playing [but] playing with pro guys and a lot of NHL guys over there was a great experience and talking with them about it was helpful. It gave me time to kind of slow down and enjoy that experience, but also think about what I wanted to do in the near future.
"I think deep down I felt ready and was really excited about taking the next step…so it kind of took a bit. But, I think that certainly I was leaning there after the season."
It all became official on Tuesday when the Bruins announced that Bjork had signed a three-year entry-level contract beginning with the 2017-18 season.
"I was very fortunate to get drafted by the Bruins and it's pretty cool that I've done well enough to earn a contract with such a prestigious organization," said Bjork. "It's one thing to sign an NHL contract, but it's another to sign it with an organization like the Boston Bruins that has so much history and is so prestigious."
Bjork's junior season with the Fighting Irish was a memorable one. The junior winger served as an alternate captain and finished with a career-high 21 goals and 52 points, helping to lead Notre Dame to its first Frozen Four appearance since 2011.
The 20-year-old was also one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, which is given annually to college hockey's top player, and was selected to the Hockey East First All-Star Team.
Overall, Bjork finished his career at Notre Dame with 109 points (40 goals, 69 assists) in 115 games. The Mequon, Wisconsin, native joined his father, Kirt, as the only father-son tandem in Fighting Irish history to each register 100 career points.
"Obviously, I think I developed a lot there, more than I sort of expected," said Bjork, whose cousin, Erik Condra, also starred at Notre Dame and has played seven seasons in the NHL with Ottawa and Tampa Bay. "It's all due, in part, to how much the people there care about the players on the team, not just as athletes, but as people as well, and they really want to develop your whole being and make you well rounded individuals. "
Bjork made sure to use his platform to make an impact on the community. He committed countless hours to volunteering at the Perley Fine Arts Academy, an elementary school in South Bend, where he was known as 'Mr. B' to dozens of young students. His efforts led to him being a finalist for the 2017 Hockey Humanitarian Award.
"You've kind of got to have a good head on your shoulders if you want to be successful and if you want to do some good," said Bjork. "Not only did I learn a lot about hockey and develop my game a lot, but I learned a lot about trying to be a good person and bettering yourself outside the rink."
At the rink, Bjork is committed to rounding out his game. Before joining Notre Dame, he was known as a responsible, all-around winger, but during the course of his college career, Bjork developed into an offensive force.
"The years I was there, we sort of needed to score more goals," said Bjork, who led the team in goals this past season. "I think that was nice that we needed that because that was something that I needed to work on as well. I think my coaches focused on that a lot with me and helped me a ton in that area…offensive ability, for sure, is something that I've been focusing on and want to continue to focus on as well."
Bjork will work this summer on becoming a more consistent player, particularly throughout all three zones, as well as shoring up his strength and physicality.
"I've got a lot of work to do this summer," said Bjork. "Obviously, there's a ton of good prospects and young players in the organization, so it's going to be tough to earn a spot on the Bruins in Boston. I'm going to be training really hard.
"It's going to take a lot of effort. But, it's a great opportunity…that's definitely going to drive me this summer."