A senior standout for the University of Minnesota hockey team. A first-team All-American and an NCAA champion. And most importantly, a member of the U.S. Women's National Team.
Those are accolades that any women’s hockey player would drool over. But they are accolades that did not come easily, particularly when Bozek thinks back to her first collegiate practice.
“My first practice was 2 hours, 45 minutes, and I didn’t think I’d be able to last all year,” she says in retrospect. “It was different coming from a travel team in Chicago where we practiced twice a week to practicing every day here.”
At the time, did she envision one day playing for Team USA?
“Making the national team was a stretch,” she said flatly.
Bozek acknowledges that the turning point for her hockey career came between her sophomore and junior seasons for the Golden Gophers. She decided to get in better shape. She really dedicated herself to defense. In short, she began to emerge as the superstar that she is today.
And now Bozek is one of the nation’s best defensemen, whether you judge greatness by leadership and character, by statistics (29 points in 20 games) or by team record (20-0-0).
“Hard work does pay off,” she said with a smile.
Indeed, her dedication resulted in a spot on the U.S. team at the Under-18 World Championships in Germany in 2009. And most recently, Bozek participated in the 2012 Four Nations Cup — a tournament featuring the United States, Canada, Finland and Sweden — that the Americans won this past November.
“It was great,” Bozek said. “It’s so exciting going to your first international tournament, so to speak, with the national program. Knowing that we have a group of girls that doesn’t play together all season that can come together and play together and bond as a team in that short a period of time is great.”
Asked about the level of competition in international hockey, compared to her college rivals, Bozek did not hesitate.
“You forget about everything that’s gone on in college,” she said. “You’re there for the week to represent your country.”
Bozek admits that she gets charged for a Minnesota-Wisconsin matchup. And the Gophers have several other rivalries that create a buzz around campus. But still, she says, nothing compares to Team USA.
“It’s a whole different atmosphere,” Bozek said. “We have a lot of rivals at school, and putting on the ‘M’ jersey is incredible. Every game I get chills before the game putting on the jersey. But playing for the national team, I mean you put on your country’s colors and compete against other countries. It’s just great.”
But exactly why do the international rivalries, such as United States vs. Canada, carry a much greater weight than, say, Minnesota vs. Wisconsin?
“I think it goes much deeper within the U.S. program because girls have been there longer,” Bozek explained. “And they’ve played Canada much more, so I think it goes deeper there. There’s a lot of competition. I think Canada vs. USA is just one of those games that everybody gets fired up for.”
Of course, no potential Canada vs. USA matchup consumes Bozek more than the thought of the world’s two biggest powerhouses squaring off at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. There are no guarantees that the matchup will take place — or that she will be a member of that Olympic team — but considering the way things have gone for her over the last three years, it seems to be a pretty safe bet.
“It’s exciting. It’s something that I’ve been striving for,” Bozek said. “Anything can happen between now and the Olympic Games, and I’m hoping that I will get a shot to try out for the team. But it’s just exciting to have an opportunity to represent your country in the Olympics.
“It’s a dream of mine. It’s always been a dream of mine.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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