Anders Bjork’s rookie season with the Bruins closely mirrored his greatest asset — speed. Only he reached the end far too quickly.
“Obviously, if you write down my year on paper, it doesn’t sound like the best year,” recalled Bjork, his season finished when banging up his left shoulder on Jan. 30 vs. Anaheim. “But I think there was so much I learned, and a lot of the relationships I built last year that I’m very grateful for . . . I think I grew as a player and a person, even though I didn’t play as much hockey as I would have liked.”
Bjork, who turned 22 earlier this month, soon will have chance to begin his early career rewrite, returning to game action when the Bruins again participate in their preseason rookie tournament (Sept. 7-10) in Buffalo with the Sabres, Devils, and Penguins.
The tournament last year helped the former Notre Dame standout springboard to the Boston varsity less than a month later. This time around, it will offer him the chance to reset his legs and reengage his overall game after a layoff of more than seven months.
“Longest I’ve ever been out for,” Bjork said the other day when reached at his home in Mequon, Wis. “So getting those games in will be helpful.”
Perhaps the fastest forward in the Boston lineup, Bjork will be a candidate to begin the new season right where he was last October, skating with first-liners Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. If he can pick up there, and provide scoring finish, it would allow coach Bruce Cassidy again to pair No. 2 center David Krejci with fellow Czech David Pastrnak, the balanced look the Bruins were striving for Oct. 5 when the Predators came to town to start the 2017-18 season.
The look didn’t last long. Though a seemingly perfect fit, Bjork picked up only two points in his first five NHL games, then soon began to bounce around the lineup — sometimes with Krejci, other times with Riley Nash as his pivot — when Cassidy moved Pastrnak back with Marchand and Bergeron, reuniting what was among the game’s most prolific trios.
Bjork would be only too happy to get the same first-line chance again this October.
“Yes, of course,” he said, chuckling over the mere thought of the reunion. “I think I didn’t even realize how great of an opportunity that was, so to have that again would be amazing. I’m so grateful to have played the games I did with them. Because just the little things I learned, you can’t be told them — you have to be there to learn them and experience playing with players like that. How good they are. How passionate they are about the game. How their attitude is perfect toward each game and each situation. I tried to soak it all in, so hopefully I can take what I learned from them and apply it to my game.”
It was lack of secondary scoring that, in large part, led to Boston’s second-round demise in the playoffs. The Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak trio remained intact, and Cassidy, for the most part, stuck with a second line of Krejci centering rookie Jake DeBrusk and veteran acquisition Rick Nash. But the faster and feistier Lightning, after dropping the opening game of the series, went on to run the table, easily containing a Boston offense that was left too reliant on the No. 1 line to provide all the pop.
Bjork only could watch in frustration from the sidelines, after undergoing surgery in late February to repair a dislocated left shoulder and labrum tear.
Earlier in the season, the result of a crushing shoulder-to-head blow by Toronto’s Matt Martin on Nov. 11, Bjork was out of action for nearly a month. Upon his return, he collected a meager 1-3—4 line in 12 games and was reassigned briefly to AHL Providence. It was only his second game back from the minors when he blew out his shoulder when crosschecked by the Ducks’ Francois Beauchemin.
“It wasn’t even that hard,” recalled Bjork. “On the video it looks like nothing. But the doctors said he must have hit me in the right spot. And probably my shoulder already was a little worn down, or something. But yeah, it was crazy, a weird one for sure.”
Originally told he would require six months — until late this month — to feel back to his old self, Bjork said he already is pain-free and has full range of motion in the shoulder. He began working out a few weeks ago at home just north of Milwaukee, and quickly overcame some unexpected tenderness in the shoulder.
“Basically I’m 100 percent now,” he said. “I think the only adjustment — and I talked to some guys who’d gone through this surgery — was when I started shooting again. Just because that motion is a little weird. It kind of scares you a little bit, but after a couple of sessions you feel normal again. That was the only weird part. Other than that, it was pretty smooth.”
Bjork will join teammate Charlie McAvoy Aug. 26 in Plymouth, Mich., for a fund-raising game in the memory of Jim Johansson, the much-loved USA Hockey executive who died unexpectedly in January. The Bruins sophomore then will head back to the Notre Dame campus in South Bend, Ind., for a pro camp, mostly with Irish alums, then make his way back to the Hub of Hockey as Labor Day approaches.
If nothing else, his rookie NHL season taught him patience.
“Totally, totally, totally,” agreed Bjork. “You kind of have to take a step back, especially because it was in-season and you find yourself having to get out of that mode, so you don’t drive yourself crazy wanting to get back on the ice because you have a long way till then. Patience. Hopefully it helped me mature a little bit as a person and player, too.”
Refereeing kept Stewart in game
Paul Stewart played briefly in the NHL, and ultimately it was his whistle and not his stick that defined his hockey career. The inimitable “Stewie,” 65, who was once a choir boy at St. Thomas Aquinas in Jamaica Plain, on Dec. 12 will be inducted as a referee into the US Hockey Hall of Fame.
“The culmination of a love affair that I’ve had with being in a rink my entire life,” said Stewart, perhaps best remembered by Bruins fans for his wild night in the Garden as a Nordiques winger when he traded punches with Terry O’Reilly. “Fact is, I never expected it. But it’s the cherry on top of my birthright. I grew up, and found out between playing and reffing, that I really wasn’t happy any place else. I was happiest in a rink.”
His officiating style, which turned out to be as bold as his jawline, took time to refine. He started in 1982-83, just prior to his 30th birthday, earning five bucks a game making calls at a youth league in Falmouth.
“The next year, I worked the East Coast finals,” he recalled. “And the year after that I worked the Turner Cup finals, and the year after that the Calder Cup finals, and the year after that I worked the Canada Cup.”
Tops on Stewart’s thank you list for helping to launch his NHL officiating career: Scotty Morrison (NHL referee in chief), the late John McCauley (former NHL director of officiating), and the late Frank Udvari (former NHL senior supervisor of officials).
“In Springfield one night, Frank had me right up against the wall,” he recalled. “He said to me, ‘If you don’t have the guts to make the call here, how do you think you’re going to make it up in the National League?’ ”
Udvari, a Hockey Hall of Fame referee, was on the whistle March 13, 1955, in Montreal when Habs great Maurice Richard punched linesman Cliff Thompson amid a melee stemming from Richard being high-sticked by the Bruins’ Hal Laycoe.
“I said to Frank, ‘Well, I did this . . . and I did that . . . ’ ” said Stewart, thinking back to the night Udvari was breathing fire in Springfield. “He said, ‘Excuses are for losers . . . remember how you played, and remember what you would do if someone did that to you? Well, then that’s a penalty. Make the call. Show some guts.’ ”
Udvari, said Stewart, finished the primer by poking a finger in the former choir boy’s chest and telling him it would be the last time he’d deliver the message.
“Scared me to death,” said Stewart. “From there, I went out and started refereeing.”
The US Hockey Hall of Fame, which was founded in 1973, is in Eveleth, Minn. This year’s induction ceremony will be in Nashville, where Stewart will be joined by wife Lori, sons McCauley and Max, and his sister, Pat McDonald, whose figure skates were the first pair of blades her Hall of Fame brother ever wore.
Also in this year’s Hall of Fame class: David Poile, Red Berenson, Natalie Darwitz, and the late Hago Harrington, the ex-Melrose High winger who played briefly for the Bruins in the mid and late 1920s. Harrington also coached the EHL’s Boston Olympics for nine seasons.
Tkachuk leaves Terriers behind
Ending nearly two months of speculation, Boston University’s Brady Tkachuk signed Monday with the Senators, who selected him fourth overall in the June draft. The standard ELS (entry level slide) deal, worth a maximum $10.275 million (including performance bonuses), carries a guaranteed minimum of $487,500 if he fails to make the NHL over the next three seasons.
Only 19 as of next month, Tkachuk also will be eligible to be assigned to the minor pros or the OHL London Knights, who own his major junior rights. Mark Hunter, who recently left his job as the Leafs’ scouting director, has returned to his role as the Knights’ general manager and would be only too happy to have the 6-foot-3-inch, 200-pound Tkachuk on his roster.
Tkachuk, 12-11—23 in 24 games as a Terriers freshman last season, will be one of six fresh-faced youngsters, all 21 or under, who’ll try to catch Guy Boucher’s eyes in the Senators’ September training camp. The group includes Colin White, the ex- of Noble and Greenough and Boston College, who surprisingly left The Heights after two seasons (spring 2017). He played most of last season at AHL Belleville, other than 21 games (2-4—6) with the struggling varsity.
Other young forwards expected to join Tkachuk and White in Senators camp: Logan Brown, Drake Batherson, Alex Formenton, and Filip Chlapik. Brown is a 6-6 center, born in Raleigh, N.C., who was taken 11th overall by the Senators in 2016.
Only two Ottawa draftees, Radek Bonk (No. 3, 1994) and Alexandre Daigle (No. 1, 1993) ever have played the full season on the varsity roster immediately following the June draft. Bonk collected 11 points and Daigle, considered a legendary bust, went 20-31—51 in 1993-94. In today’s game, Tkachuk would be a sure-shot rookie of the year candidate if he could replicate Daigle’s numbers.
Wayne Gretzky led the league in scoring in 1993-94 at 38-92—130, one of eight NHLers (including Boston’s Adam Oates) to reach 100 points.
Moving on from the Hub
Two Bruins short-timers last season, defenseman Paul Postma and forward Tommy Wingels, decided last week to play overseas in 2018-19. Postma hooked on with the KHL’s Ak Bars Kazan (once home to Bruins draft pick Sergei Zinovjev) and Wingels with Geneve-Servette in Switzerland.
Over the summer, a half-dozen other Bruins unrestricted free agents departed to sign NHL contracts elsewhere, including: Kenny Agostino, forward, Montreal, one year, $700,000; Austin Czarnik, forward, Calgary, two years, $1.25 million AAV; Nick Holden, defenseman, Vegas, two years, $2.2 million AAV; Anton Khudobin, goalie, Dallas, two years, $2.5 million AAV; Riley Nash, forward, Columbus, three years, $2.75 million AAV; and Tim Schaller, forward, Vancouver, two years, $1.9 million AAV.
Peirson recalls getting started
Ex-Bruins forward Johnny Peirson, now 93, played some six weeks for Hago Harrington’s 1946-47 Boston Olympics following his arrival after a college career at McGill University.
“Wish I could tell you what I remember of Hago and playing for the Olympics,” said Peirson, ever the gentleman, “but that was a long time ago.”
Bruins GM Art Ross, recalled Peirson, wasn’t sure what to do with the 21-year-old winger following the club’s September training camp. He parked him with the Olympics for 10 games, where Peirson put up 5-10—15, and then sent him to play the remainder of the season with AHL Hershey.
The Olympics, Peirson recalled, played games at both the Garden and Boston Arena. He went on to play 10 seasons with the Bruins (153-173—326), and one of those home games had to be moved from the Garden to the Arena.
“The chemical used to freeze the ice was kept across the street from the Garden,” recalled Peirson, who later spent decades on the Bruins’ broadcast team, most notably on Ch. 38 as Fred Cusick’s partner. “Something happened, either the chemical ran out or a pipe broke, but we had to play the Red Wings at the Arena.”
Peirson and wife Barbara still spend their summers in Wayland, but winter in Sarasota, Fla.
“The cold,” said the Winnipeg-born Peirson, “is not for us.”
Ex-Bruin Bryan Berard, according to a TMZ report on Thursday, is among an increasing number of ex-players suing the NHL, most of them claiming head/brain trauma. Per Berard’s suit, he suffered “multiple brain injuries” over the course of his 12-year career and claims the NHL had a duty to “cease their patent glorification of, and profiting from, fistfighting and violence in the league.” Berard, now 41, played 639 NHL games (83 with Boston) and totaled six major penalties for fighting . . . Looks like the Oilers could be without defenseman Andrej Sekera all season, following surgery last week to repair an Achilles’ tendon he tore while training. “Tough blow,” said GM Peter Chiarelli. Sekera is due three more seasons at a $5.5 million cap hit. Rumors immediately kicked up in Edmonton that Chiarelli might take a run at acquiring Torey Krug (two more seasons at $5.25 million) to fill Sekera’s role . . . The Red Wings are preparing as though franchise center Henrik Zetterberg, plagued by back issues, won’t play this season — and could retire. He played in all 82 games last season, but the wonky back didn’t allow him to practice half the season. Zetterberg will be 38 in October, and the three years remaining on his deal will pay him a total of only $5.35 million (despite a $6 million cap hit each season) . . . Bruins captain practices are expected to begin in Brighton Aug. 27.
Sure sign that hockey is at our doorstep: agent Allan Walsh’s tweet last week, a picture of Bruins prospect Jakub Zboril working out at Octagon’s pro training camp in Montreal. Camp there is expected to last until Labor Day . . . Bruins forward Anders Bjork’s brother, Brady, will play junior hockey in British Columbia this season and then report next summer to Notre Dame to launch his collegiate career . . . A pal vacationing in Bonavista, Newfoundland, texted your faithful puck chronicler a picture Friday — a roadside billboard there that features a large picture of Michael Ryder, decked out in his Bruins uniform, with the words, “The Dream Began Here.” Ryder, now 38, won the Cup with the Bruins in 2011 and retired after his 2014-15 season with the Devils.