Buffalo Grove native trying for red, white and blue jersey
Take a trip down into her family's unfinished basement in Buffalo Grove, and you'll get a glimpse into Megan Bozek's childhood.
Imprints of hockey pucks dot the concrete wall. Floor markings show where inline skates took tight turns at high speeds. Remnants of masking tape reveal what's left of old baseball pitch targets.
Megan BozekAge: 21
Hometown: Buffalo Grove
School: University of Minnesota
Who inspires you? My family (mom, dad, two brothers), coaches Tony Cachey, Brad Frost, Joel Johnson and my teammates
What's on your iPod? Anything country!
What book are you reading? "Turning to One Another," a leadership book by Margaret Wheatley
The three words that best describe you? Outgoing, Loving, Competitive
If Megan wasn't on the ice or a baseball diamond, she and her older brothers likely were downstairs doing their own version of decorating.
"We've replaced all the broken lights and windows, but it's still a sight to see," says Tom Bozek, Megan's dad and a longtime hockey referee. "She didn't want us to, so we never treated her any different than the boys."
Megan's natural ability and dedication to constantly improve have propelled her from a 19-month-old lacing up her first pair of skates to co-captain of the No. 1-ranked University of Minnesota women's ice hockey team -- and a hopeful Olympian.
The widely recruited 2009 Stevenson High School graduate remains the only Illinois native ever to play for the Golden Gophers team, which gets the vast majority of its talent either from in state or the Great White North.
Four years later, Megan's coaches are still relieved the 5-foot-9 senior choose Minnesota over consummate rival Wisconsin, especially considering she just broke the team record for career goals (42) and career points (135) by a defenseman.
"As with any student-athlete, you're busy," the 21-year-old said. "We practice Monday through Thursday and have games Friday and Saturday. And all the while you have to keep up with school work and try to have some sort of a personal life. But if you're doing something you love, you want to set your standards and sights high."
The hard work is paying off in spades.
Minnesota won the NCAA championship last year, and the team is 32-0 this season with just two games remaining before the playoffs. Saturday's 3-2 overtime win over Bemidji State was the team's first one-goal decision of the season. That game also extended the team's overall winning streak to 40 games.
Megan hopes that when her final game with Minnesota comes to a close -- with a second straight national title trophy in hand, of course -- she'll trade in her maroon and gold sweater for the red, white and blue.
Tryouts for the 2014 U.S. Olympic team take place soon after the collegiate Frozen Four tournament.
Megan's got a good shot at playing in Sochi, Russia, considering she was part of the U.S. team for the 2012 International Ice Hockey Federation Women's World Championship in Burlington, Vt., where the team lost a heartbreaker in overtime to Canada. In 2009, she was on the U.S. Under-18 team that won the gold medal in Germany.
"It's incredible putting on that jersey with your country's colors," Megan said. "You're playing for more than yourself and your team."
Though Megan refuses to take anything for granted, Minnesota assistant coach Joel Johnson is confident his star defenseman will make the roster.
"What makes her special is her unique ability to see the game as a whole," Johnson said. "She skates better than most people, controls the game with her size and strength, but also rushes the puck up the ice. And she shoots the puck just as well as anybody."
Along with lauding her coaches and teammates, Megan attributes her success to playing with the boys until eighth grade, something she said taught her the physicality of the game.
She also credits her decision after sophomore year to focus on improving her defensive game and get in better shape.
"Megan's God-given talent got her a long way, but as the competition got tighter, she managed to engage mentally and become a complete player," Johnson said.
Accolades for Megan have come from off the ice, as well.
She was named one of just 11 nominees for the 2013 BNY Mellon Wealth Management Hockey Humanitarian award, given to one men's and one women's hockey player who embodies "all that is, and can be, right with sport."
The All-American defenseman has put in more than 200 hours of community service during college by volunteering at local schools, Feed My Starving Children and HopeKids.
"Here at Minnesota, we get weekly emails about volunteering opportunities," Megan said. "I've come away with great relationships with families who are going through very difficult times. It was an honor to hear I was nominated."
Looking ahead, the sports management major's dream is to become a sports agent. She might go back to school for business, and she wants to help develop professional women's hockey leagues.
Megan hopes she won't have to give her professional career a ton of thought, however, at least not until after the Olympics.
"Putting on that American jersey gives me butterflies," Megan said. "It's my dream to do it again."
• Kimberly Pohl wrote today's column. She and Elena Ferrarin always are looking for Suburban Standouts to profile. If you know of someone whose story just wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and the nominee to email@example.com or call our Standouts hotline at (847) 608-2733.