PHOTO CRED: Michael Hetzel
The NWHL has seen athletes from some of the best collegiate hockey programs in the country, athletes who have proudly worn (and continue to wear) their country’s colors and athletes who have set new records for women’s hockey; for Megan Bozek, that’s just the beginning.
The Illinois native and Buffalo Beauts defenseman has amassed one heck of a hockey resume over the years and just recently has added yet another feather to her cap...err, helmet.
In early November, Bozek received a call from her home state that caught her a bit off guard - but in the best possible way. A 2017 nomination to the Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame, the 12th class for this honor, making her the youngest ever recipient. “I grew up playing in Illinois, and I am so humbled,” she said of the distinction.
It’s an honor well deserved, as Bozek has been turning heads for years. From her early days playing for the Glenview Stars, AAA (boys) Team Illinois and winning a national championship with the Chicago Mission, to an Olympic silver medal in Sochi in 2014 before joining the NWHL’s inaugural season.
Bozek is in good company in the Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame joining Lisa Chesson, a 2014 class inductee and fellow Buffalo Beaut defenseman. Clearly, Illinois knows something about world class defensmen, but interestingly, defense was not where Bozek first started her hockey career.
“I actually started out as a goalie,” revealed Bozek, “that wasn’t for me,” she added. “I have been at defense ever since,” something she and her fans can be quite glad for. “I like that you can see the whole ice, join the rush, and play in every zone.”
And when Bozek says every zone, she means - every zone. Defensively, Bozek is presently third in the NWHL in blocked shots (14) and offensively fourth in league shots on goal (48). Additionally, she has tallied eight points and counting, including a speedy, highlight worthy coast to coast goal against New York just last month. Speed isn’t her only weapon, in fact NWHL fans likely know Megan Bozek for what they have affectionately dubbed the “Boz Blast,” a rocketing slapshot from the point that has made more than a few professional netminders tuck their heads.
That mega-shot has become something of a signature for the Buffalo blueliner, winning her the Hardest Shot contest in last season’s NWHL All-Star Skills Competition at 88 MPH (a record still in tact, as Blake Bolden of the Boston Pride recorded an 87 MPH shot in Pittsburgh). Developing the deadly blast, Bozek credits to her early years playing boys hockey. “Playing with the boys growing up,that was the cool thing to do - practice your slapshot on the boards while coach was talking,” she explained. Ninety percent of the time, I take a slapshot, so over time it developed.”
The speedy sharp-shooter is now in her second season with Buffalo following last year’s Isobel Cup run.
PHOTO CRED: Michael Hetzel
“Going to the Isobel Cup finals last year was incredible, and I am hoping we can do it again this year. There has been great support, and Buffalo is becoming a hockey hot bed, so it is fun to see new fans/old fans and the growth occur,” she said. Her wide range of experiences are certainly an asset to her Buffalo team.
PHOTO CRED: Troy Parla
“I was invited to the USA National Development festivals when I was younger, and in 2008 was invited to tryout for the first ever U18 team. I got cut that year from Worlds, but made my first team in 2009.” The rest is history.
In 2009, Bozek joined the ranks of the prestigious Minnesota Golden Gophers. “They had a great facility (that was the first just for the women’s side), they had what I wanted to study, and they were pretty darn good at hockey,” said Bozek of her choice of university.
At Minnesota, she would go on to win two (back-to-back) NCAA championships, female student-athlete of the year honors (in her junior year), and captaining the Gophers to their first ever undefeated season in her senior year. “Minnesota was the best four years of my life. Brad Frost and Joel Johnson were my coaches, and I learned so much from them, on and off the ice,” she recalled fondly. “Also,” she continued, “it was only a six hour drive from home, so I was very glad to see my parents were able to come up to more games because of that.”
Family has had a significant influence on Bozek, even from the beginning. “My [two] older brothers were my motivation,” Bozek admitted, thinking back to her roots, “I wanted to be just like them.” When asked about the most monumental moment of her hockey career thus far (an Olympic silver in Sochi), it was first and foremost her family who made the moment so significant.
“You are on a world stage, and you are at the pinnacle of women’s hockey,” Bozek said. “Although it wasn’t the medal we wanted, seeing my whole family in the stands in Russia made it all worth it. Blood, sweat, and tears go into training, and they went into that moment as well.”
The silver came at the hands of perpetual rivals Team Canada; now, living in southern Ontario and having spent time in the CWHL, Bozek has experienced the passion of hockey players and fans from our neighbors to the north as well. “In Canada, people breathe hockey. It is all around you, from gas station commercials, to signs on the highway, to babies going home from the hospital in a jersey,” she said. “Outside of these leagues, USA and Canada have a heavy rivalry, so it is always fun getting to play the opponent when on different teams as well. As for playing my USA teammates, they are so good, so it’s a struggle some games!
“I am very pleased to see that hockey is growing in the US, especially women’s hockey. So many people are involved, and I couldn’t be more excited to see what the future holds.
“I hope we can one day make a (NHL) paycheck and have a 32 team league like the NHL. I know that will take a lot of time, but never say never. There is so much potential… The sky's the limit,” Bozek said looking forward. “We have to be willing to give up some things to make some gains, and vice versa. I have absolute faith that women’s hockey will be thriving, more than it is today.”
PHOTO CRED: Michael Hetzel