Sure, there were discussions with numerous schools as he pondered where to further his career. Ultimately, though, Bjork’s decision was an easy one.
He was headed to South Bend, Ind., and the University of Notre Dame – where it would be a family affair.
Bjork’s father, Kirt, was an All-American hockey player for the Fighting Irish in 1983, and his mother, Patricia, graduated from ND in 1982. Bjork’s two older sisters also graduated from Notre Dame, Brinya in 2012 and Keali in 2015. And his cousin, Ottawa Senators forward Erik Condra, was a standout for the Irish from 2005-09.
“Obviously I’ve been a Notre Dame fan my whole life and kind of been brainwashed to be a Notre Dame fan,” said Bjork, a 2014 fifth-round pick of the Bruins, who is now a sophomore forward for the NCAA Tournament-bound Fighting Irish.
“I just have always wanted to go here. It’s been a dream of mine since I was younger. It’s really an honor to be able to go to school here, especially with all my family and everyone who’s gone here before me. It makes it a lot more special.”
Because of his family’s long history with the institution, Bjork knew for years the value of a Notre Dame education, which is why he chose the college route as opposed to playing in juniors as so many young players now elect to do.
“[My parents] obviously value education and that was one of the things they instilled in me ever since I was young: school comes first. My mom always says, ‘No matter what happens, no one can take away your education,’” said Bjork, who is enrolled in the Mendoza College of Business.
“[Condra] encouraged me as well to get my education and go to a school like Notre Dame that offers a great education and will give you a really good degree, but also has a great hockey program. They played a big part in my decision in going the college route.”
To this point, Bjork is not regretting his choice. The 19-year-old has been thriving both on and off the ice, developing his hockey skills, while also maturing as an individual.
“The school really pushes you and teaches you discipline and a lot of life lessons that are important,” said Bjork, whose father is 12th on Notre Dame’s all-time points list with 161 and is currently the school’s Midwest Director of Regional Development.
“I think I’ve grown a lot and it’s helped me to keep balance in life and realize you’ve got to take care of things like school that you might not be as interested in as hockey. But you’ve just got to do those things so you can play the game you love.
“Also, with the coaching staff and facilities here, I think I’ve grown a lot and developed a lot strength-wise and skill-wise. It’s been a really good fit for me and has definitely taught me stuff and continues to help me grow every day.”
Bjork singled out a number of on-ice areas of improvement since he arrived at Notre Dame, including his defensive-zone awareness and overall body strength.
“Our coach [Jeff Jackson] is big on systems and team play. I think I’ve learned to develop and learned how to adapt and be coachable,” said Bjork. “Also, learning how to defend and play a smarter, more simple game, which is how a lot of players in the NHL play.
“I think my strength has improved a lot; we have a really good strength program here, just helping my skating and things like that. A lot of areas of my game have improved.”
The Wisconsin native’s progression has allowed him to become one of the top players in Hockey East. This season, he was named a Second-Team All-Star after leading the Fighting Irish with 33 points (11 goals, 22 assists), an uptick from his freshman campaign during which he tallied seven goals and 15 assists.
“I didn’t have the greatest freshman year, struggled at the beginning adapting, wasn’t really producing offensively, then picked it up in the second half of the year and carried that on into this year,” said Bjork.
“A lot of that is because our team has been doing well this year and I think a lot of guys have stepped up and improved a lot over the year, and from last year as well.
“I think a big part of that is my teammates and the atmosphere the team has created, which has helped me have individual success as well.”
Notre Dame’s success this season included a stint atop the Hockey East standings, where the Fighting Irish eventually finished third, three points behind Boston College and Providence. ND bowed out to Northeastern in the Hockey East quarterfinals, but received an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament, where they were pitted against with rival Michigan in the first round.
“I’m really excited – I think we all are – especially this is my first time being in the tournament, all the guys in my class and all the freshmen,” said Bjork.
“It’s our first go at the tournament, it’s something we’ve all dreamed of and it makes it even more special that we’re playing Michigan, our rival in our region. We have a lot of school history with them. I think that makes it a lot more exciting and I think we’re all pretty jacked up about it.”