BOSTON - It has been far from an easy road for Anders Bjork.
The first laps of the 23-year-old winger's professional hockey career have been far bumpier than he would have liked, with both of his first two seasons cut short by significant shoulder surgeries.
Bjork learned the hard way that the rigors of hockey at the highest of levels often create roadblocks that require commitment and determination to overcome.
With his second major shoulder injury some eight months in the rearview, the former Notre Dame standout showed up at Bruins training camp this fall with his engine full and his tires polished. For Bjork, it was a new beginning.
"Coming out of training camp, we thought he played well," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "The discussion was will he be in our top 12 every night, and is he going to get his minutes?"
The answer at the start of the season was no. But Bjork took the demotion to Providence in stride, notching eight points in seven games for the P-Bruins. And when injuries struck the big club earlier this week, it was enough for Bjork to be summoned to make the trek up I-95.
Through two games, the 2014 fifth-round pick appears to be taking advantage.
Bjork notched his first goal of the season on Saturday night, a blistering one-timer in the second period, to help lift the Bruins to a 3-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues in a Stanley Cup Final rematch at TD Garden.
"We felt that he'd be better off going down [to Providence], playing a little more, see if he can start getting comfortable scoring goals again, making plays, being that guy," said Cassidy. "Whether that short sample size has anything to do with what's happened the last two games, I don't know. We needed [the secondary scoring].
"[His recall was] probably a little earlier than we'd liked. We didn't have a timetable, but I think it's important for him. If he's going to play up here, he has to be some level of a scorer."
Video: STL@BOS: Bjork beats Binnington with one-time blast
Bjork showed that he has all of the tools against the Blues. On his goal, the sixth of his NHL career, the winger took a feed from Danton Heinen in the neutral zone and surged into the Blues end, showing off his patented blazing speed.
"I think it's huge for me to get to those areas where a lot of goals are scored," said Bjork. "It's something I'm trying to focus on for sure…you see guys like [Jake DeBrusk], [David Pastrnak] , [Brad Marchand], and those guys all do it so well when they attack the net and find a way make a play off those."
Bjork eventually slowed up at the top of the right-wing circle and fed a trailing Matt Grzelcyk just inside the blue line. Grzelcyk quickly delivered a return feed, which Bjork unleashed on, beating St. Louis goalie Jordan Binnington over his glove to extend Boston's lead to 2-0 with 10:29 remaining in the second period.
"When I picked up the puck, I noticed we had some time there and guys were yelling that there was someone coming up so tried to be patient with it and make a good play," said Bjork. "[Par] Lindholm opened it up by driving to the net, Grzelcyk made a great pass, Heinen made a good play before that too. It kind of rolled a little bit, I guess tricked the goalie a little bit - a knuckle puck."
One heck of a knuckle puck, to be exact.
"That was a bomb. It was a good shot. It's something I don't know if he had a couple of years ago, that one timer," said Cassidy. "I thought he was good hunting pucks; I thought he was good on the walls. He got stripped a couple times in the D zone by heavy teams, so that's the education part for him now. He's against men every night, especially a team like that, but I thought he held his own."
With 52 NHL contests under his belt, Bjork believes that his game has matured significantly, though he acknowledges there remains plenty of work to be done for him to become a consistent scoring threat for the Black & Gold.
"I think it's a work in progress, I've got to keep getting better every night and show my consistency," said Bjork. "I think I'm pleased with what I've done so far. I think I can improve a little bit and keep being hungry offensively, and also take care of my job in the defensive zone and being responsible all over the ice."
Video: Cassidy reacts to Bruins 3-0 victory over the Blues
Bjork certainly had the help of his linemates in that department. Playing with Heinen and Lindholm, the trio combined for a strong and dogged performance in all three zones, despite limited ice time due to the high number of penalties - six on each side - that affected the flow of the game.
"I think our line played well, especially because of all the penalties in that game," said Bjork. "We stayed motivated on the bench, stuck with it, and just tried to contribute and keep the team up and keep energy when we got out there. It is a testament to those guys and how they are as people and how they approach game."
The camaraderie between Bjork's teammates was clear following his goal. As he made his way to the bench for those customary congratulatory fist bumps, the smiles that also greeted him were clearly a bit larger and more exuberant than those of a typical October tally.
"Anders is a great kid. Guys love him," said Cassidy. "He works hard, he's quiet, no maintenance, he comes to work every day. So, I think they're genuinely happy for him because he's gone through a couple of tough injuries and he's worked his way through it, and it looks like he's going to be a National Hockey League player. I don't want to jump to conclusions after two games, but so far so good."
"They have been amazing, the character of the guys on this team is something I haven't experienced before and it is one of the reasons why this organization has so much success," added Bjork. "They help me out, all the guys who have had similar surgeries or injuries have reached out to me the past two years when I got injured and encouraged me and gave me tips and stuff.
"It kinda feels like a family here even when you're not playing for six months or so. I'm fortunate to be a part of this organization and hopefully I can pass that on to some of the other guys here as well."
Full speed ahead.
Video: Bjork reacts after scoring first goal of season