By Ross Forman
Megan Bozek had a lifetime of hockey memories wrapped inside a six-week stretch.
The skating glory started for Bozek, a Buffalo Grove native and Stevenson High School alum, in March when her Minnesota Golden Gophers defeated rival Wisconsin 4-2 to win the national championship at the NCAA Frozen Four, held in Duluth, Minn.
A few weeks later, Bozek was wearing the red-white-and-blue jersey for Team USA in the International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championships, held in Vermont. Team USA had to settle for second-place, though, ultimately losing to rival Team Canada 5-4 in overtime.
Then, when she returned to campus in Minneapolis, Bozek was named Minnesota’s breakthrough female athlete of the year and the university’s female athlete of the year.
“It’s been a whirlwind, but it’s probably been the best five or six weeks of my life within hockey,” Bozek said. “Things happened so quickly. It was tough to take a second to look back (at what was accomplished).”
Added Minnesota women’s hockey coach Brad Frost: “It was fantastic to see her grow as a player this past year. She took another whole jump in her game. To have the success that she did individually, and with the team, it must have been a pretty special year for her. It was a remarkable year for her.”
Bozek’s road to riches on the ice truly started a year ago with her off-ice training and a challenge from Frost. He asked her, “Do you want to be a great defenseman, or, do you want to be an elite defenseman?”
Well, Frost answered: “She clearly took the step to become an elite defenseman.”
Bozek finished the Gophers’ season with 42 points in 39 games (15 goals, 27 assists). She was plus-47 on the ice and tallied 3 game-winning goals. Bozek was second nationally in defensewomen scoring and first among pure defensewomen. Bozek also was named:
• All-WCHA first team.
• All-NCAA playoff/Frozen Four first team.
• All-American first team.
• All-USCHO (US College Hockey Online) first team.
“I could tell at the start of the season that there was a change in her game. She was more fit, having been more dedicated (last) summer,” Frost said.
Her summer sweat was rewarded with an NCAA title.
“Winning a national championship is one thing that I came to college to do,” Bozek said. “We had such a good team and it was such an unbelievable experience. We were looking forward to seeing (Wisconsin) all year. We always said that we wanted to beat Wisconsin in the national championship game, and that’s what we did. We were just more prepared, (more) ready to play. We weren’t going to lose that game.
“Plus, it was exciting to play (the national championship) in Duluth, (because the University of Minnesota-Duluth) is a big rival of ours, too. Having some of their players in the stands watching us, on their home ice, was pretty exciting for us.”
This was Bozek’s second time playing in the annual Frozen Four. She was on the ice for the final 30 seconds of the title game.
“Getting to throw our gloves in the air (at the end of the game) and know that we were the best team in the country, there’s nothing better than that,” Bozek said. “We always talk about throwing the gloves up in the air and starting a dog-pile on the goalie. Well, we finally got to do that.
“However, those last 30 seconds probably were the most nerve-racking 30 seconds of my life. That actually felt like about five minutes. We did everything that we needed to do (to secure the victory), and our goalie stood on her head the whole series.”
Bozek and the Gophers were honored at the state capitol in Minnesota after the NCAA championship and also recognized at a Minnesota Wild game. Bozek, though, was also focused on her next hockey challenge.
She left Minnesota on March 25, bound for Lake Placid, N.Y., for final week of tryouts for the U.S. National Team. The team practiced for six days in Lake Placid, then traveled to Ottawa to play Team Canada, which ended in a 1-0 win for Canada.
The final roster for the U.S. Team was announced the next morning, on April 1, at breakfast.
Bozek didn’t sleep after the Team Canada game. She was too excited and nervous for the pending announcement.
The IIHF World Championships were Bozek’s second world championships, her first with the U.S. National Team.
“The experience overall was unbelievable. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything,” she said. “I was proud that we made it to the gold-medal game and gave Canada a good run for the gold. The bounces just didn’t go our way that night.
“Playing in front of the home crowd was huge. Having my parents, (Tom and Patti), and other friends there (in Vermont), for a sold-out game against Canada, was amazing, especially with the USA flags waving. It doesn’t get any better than playing for your country, putting on that jersey and wearing it with pride. Stepping on the ice for the gold medal game was one of the most exciting things, knowing that I could help my country win a medal in general — gold or silver.”
Minnesota’s sixth-annual Golden Goldys, a student-athlete awards gala, was held at TCF Bank Stadium on April 23. Similar to ESPN’s ESPYS, the event features student-athletes in formal/dress attire. Bozek and teammate Amanda Kessel were among five finalists for the female athlete of the year award. Their team also was named best women’s team and Frost was selected best women’s coach.
“It was a great honor to be recognized at a big university,” Bozek said. “I owe it all to my team. We had a great season. I’m really grateful and honored to have won (the awards).”
So now what?
Well, she was taking final exams this past week on campus and will be in Colorado in early June for a U.S. camp, and another in August. Bozek will be working at hockey camps in the Chicago area and Minneapolis over the summer.
And, she’s planning to visit teammate Baylee Gillanders over the summer at her family’s farm in Canada.
“That will be an experience I’ve never had before, so it should be an interesting week,” Bozek said, laughing.
“The summer is kind of the time to relax, focus on off-ice training, and take time away from the rink.”
And, of course, refocus on a repeat in her senior season.
“I think the sky’s the limit for Megan,” Frost said. “Hopefully she just continues to improve and cement herself as a lock for the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team, and of course we’re also hoping she has a great senior season for us as well.”