Three years ago, Megan Bozek never could have imagined that she would be in this spot.
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 Bozek Mugpractice 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.
For the last 15 years, Ian Walsh has crisscrossed the United States as an NHL official. In this Part 2 of our conversation with Walsh, the 42-year-old Philadelphia native fielded a series of questions discussing life on the road, his conditioning schedule, mentors, on-ice struggles, the evolution of the game and advice for aspiring officials.
USA Hockey: How do you think you've been able to maintain all of the officiating success you've had over the last 15 years?
Ian Walsh: I believe one of my strengths as an official is my work ethic. I come to the rink every night ready to work hard and give 100 percent. I also believe I am very coachable, and when I'm offered a suggestion for improvement, I try very hard to implement that advice into my game.
USAH: What is your conditioning schedule like during the NHL season? How about during the off-season?
Walsh: During the season, conditioning work is more about maintaining what you built up over the summer. The workouts aren't as intense but you must continue to take good care of your body. Game-day workouts usually include a 30-minute bike ride or a couple miles run at the hotel gym. I also like to do some core work and light strength training on top of that.
The weather in Portland is amazing in the summer, and I prefer to be outside and on my road bike. I usually get in about four days a week of riding outdoors to help build my endurance and strength. I try to play hockey a few days a week as well to help work on my skating.
USAH: When did you realize you finally had cemented your career as an official? What was that feeling like?
Walsh: I don't know if you ever get that feeling. Every night is a different challenge in our league. It is a hard, hard league to officiate. The scrutiny of every call, every goal, ever non-call is such a challenge for all of us. The best players and coaches in the world expect us to perform at such a high level every night, and we have to be ready for anything that comes our way. It’s a privilege to be on the ice in the NHL, and I think that is something no official takes for granted.
USAH: What has been your biggest accomplishment to date as an official?
Walsh: Being chosen to participate in four Stanley Cup playoffs is what I'm most proud of. It’s an incredible honor to be selected and that’s the goal for every official each year. Also, being part of the team that was chosen to represent the NHL at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics was a phenomenal experience and a great opportunity.
USAH: What has been the biggest hurdle/obstacle you've had to overcome in your officiating career?
Walsh: I’ve been lucky so far, knock on wood, that I haven’t had any serious injuries. Other than some bumps and bruises, I’ve been relatively injury-free in my career. The biggest challenge is to be able to bounce back from calls you made that aren't correct. In this day and age, we usually know within minutes after the game if we made a wrong decision. When you make a call that impacts the game, it’s hard on the mind. Unfortunately, we make mistakes and what most people don't understand is that nobody takes it harder than the official making that mistake. Being able to bounce back from a mistake is something all officials must learn to do.
USAH: Who has had the most impact on your officiating career over the past 15 years? What has that person or those people taught you?
Walsh: Nobody has helped me more over my NHL career than fellow referee Paul Devorski. I've worked a lot of games with Paul and we’ve had the opportunity to travel together on the road. As an elite, veteran referee, he has been able to pass down some of his knowledge to me to help me become a better official. Paul is retiring this year, and our staff will sorely miss him.
USAH: How has the game changed, besides speed, since you started in the early 2000s?
Walsh: I would say the biggest change besides the speed of the game would be the use of technology. It is amazing what you see at rink – teams have iPads on the bench, super slo-motion video replays, hi-def video scoreboards, etc. With all that technology, it makes the officials job appear easy. People forget that the official on the ice sees a play one time, in real time, and must make a split-second decision on that play. It often appears quite different when you see a replay in super slo-mo on hi-def after a game.
USAH: What advice can you give aspiring NHL/professional league officials as they progress in their career?
Walsh: I would say make sure you have a backup plan. Making it to the NHL is everyone’s goal, but there are very few jobs available. There are so many factors that go into hiring an official and a lot of those are out of your control. Go and work the highest level available to you. Don't worry about other officials, if you are good enough, the NHL will find you. Also, control what you can control – always work on your skating, know your rules and come to the rink every night with a strong work ethic and a great attitude.
Tag(s): Women's National Team