Women’s hockey: Bozek’s roots are with her Buffalo Grove family

This is a story about the achievement of an athlete’s lifelong dream of becoming an Olympian.

Megan Bozek’s story is about the talent, drive and ambition that propelled her to make the U.S. women’s hockey team. But it’s also about how those dreams might not have been realized without the help of family. And part of Bozek’s story is about family.

Bozek, the daughter of Patti and Tom Bozek, grew up in Buffalo Grove. She had two older brothers, Danny and Stephen. Often needing a goalie for their one-on-one games inside the family home on Beverly Lane, the brothers recruited Megan Bozek, then 5 years old.

“We’d play ‘shinny’ hockey. You’d be on your knees,” said Stephen Bozek, now 24. “As older boys we’d make her play goalie quite often. We’d play in the household living room.”

When the neighbor kids would join the Bozek trio, the shinny games often became more competitive.

“There would be flying sticks, heads through walls. An elbow thrown. Anything and everything,” said Megan Bozek, now 22. “It got pretty physical.”

It wasn’t long before hockey was became more than a recreational sport for the Bozeks. For years, the Bozeks would leave Buffalo Grove on Christmas Day to drive to suburban Detroit or Toronto for Stephen Bozek’s junior hockey tournaments that would begin the next day.

“We’d be fighting in the minivan the whole way,” Stephen Bozek said.

Soon Megan Bozek was more than a passenger on those family trips. Her meteoric rise through the junior hockey ranks created a unique circumstance for the family.

“She started playing with the boys. These boys were in the same tournaments I was in,” Stephen Bozek said. “Our parents had to pick which game they wanted to watch. There was no way around it.”

By that point, such scheduling challenges were a labor of love for the Bozeks. They were a hockey family, embracing the nomadic lifestyle that came with it. And in Megan Bozek, they were raising a budding star.

On the rise

In 2004, Megan Bozek joined Team Illinois, a AAA junior squad. For the first time in her young career, she was playing competitively with players of the same gender. Megan Bozek had been on boys teams since her shinny hockey days in Buffalo Grove, which she admitted helped her immediately with the girls.

“It helped me develop my speed and strength and my shot,” Megan Bozek said. “That was very good and made me a better player.”

A few years later, while attending Stevenson High School, she was recruited to play with Chicago Mission, a club team out of west suburban Woodridge and coached by Tony Cachey.

“She was one of the best players on the team when I had her. You knew right away,” Cachey said. “She just jumped off the ice, a special kid.”

While playing for Chicago Mission, Megan Bozek began to develop the on-ice skills that helped her become an Olympian. An aggressive, offensive-minded defenseman, Megan Bozek captained the Mission team to a national championship in 2009, her final year.

Cachey remembers Megan Bozek’s steely determination in leading her team to the first-place trophy, foreshadowing a decorated college career that began in the fall.

“At any given moment she could make a play that could change the momentum of the game,” Cachey said. “When we won, she was overwhelmed with emotion. That’s my best memory, sheer happiness.”

In four years at Minnesota, beginning in 2009, Megan Bozek was twice named first team All-America. In the seasons Megan Bozek was an All-America pick (2011-12, 2012-13), Minnesota won the NCAA championship. By her junior year, Megan Bozek was positioning herself for an Olympic selection, playing in the world championships for the U.S. women’s hockey team.

After graduating from Minnesota with a degree in Sports Management in 2013, Megan Bozek moved to Boston to train full time with the national team.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do after college. I did want to continue to play hockey and set my sights high,” Megan Bozek said. “The highest level is the Olympics.”

The highest level

Less than a month ago, on the night of Dec. 20, Megan Bozek gathered with her USA Hockey teammates inside a conference room at the Canad Inn in Grand Forks, N.D. The U.S. team had beaten Team Canada 4-1 in an exhibition game a few hours earlier. Told she had made the final Olympic roster of 21 players, Megan Bozek celebrated with the rest of her new teammates. It was well past midnight when she placed a call to her sleeping father in Buffalo Grove.

Tom Bozek walked down the hall to his son’s room to share the news.

“My dad came knocking on my door at 2 a.m. I was fast asleep,” Stephen Bozek said. “It was just me and my dad on the phone with [Megan Bozek], who was crying. I personally never had a doubt.”

From Stephen Bozek’s bedroom, it’s a short walk to the stairwell that enters into the living room where a 5-year-old Megan Bozek first played shinny hockey games with her older brothers. Once her siblings’ eager goalkeeper, she is now an Olympian who will represent her country in February. Joining her in Sochi, Russia, will be her parents and brothers.

During a trip home over Christmas, Megan Bozek couldn’t help but notice how the marks and nicks on the walls from hundreds of flying pucks are still visible.

“It’s awesome to see now the memories,” she said. “There’s a lot of history in those bumps and bruises.”

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