Bozek earns respect as elite defenseman, leader

Megan Bozek is nearing 100 points — a rare feat for a defenseman.

Betsy Helfand

Megan Bozek’s contributions to the women’s hockey team are mostly immeasurable.

She’s someone her teammates trust and look up to, she brings a positive voice to the locker room and she’s an offensive threat as a defenseman.

But one contribution is measurable: 100 points.

The senior captain currently sits at 97 points, and she might record her 100th as early as this weekend against St. Lawrence.

True to her role, Bozek said she doesn’t think about the milestone and only found out about it through Twitter.

But it is indicative of her performance on the ice. When she reaches the centennial mark, she’ll be just the fourth defenseman in program history to do so.

“When we recruited her, we knew that she was going to be very special,” head coach Brad Frost said. “I think over the last couple years in particular, she’s really dedicated herself off the ice, which has in turn helped her on the ice to be, in my opinion, the best [defenseman] in the country both offensively and defensively.”

That’s high praise from someone who has experience coaching numerous All-Americans.

Bozek was a first team All-American last season, when she finished with 42 points, the second most in the nation by a
defenseman.

Through four games this season, she has eight points — fourth best on the team and tops among its defenseman.

“When you watch her first strides, it’s like she’s being shot out of a cannon,” Frost said. “She gets to top speed very quickly … and she has a fantastic shot [and] sees the ice well.”

He also said Bozek now rushes the puck with the purpose of making plays, instead of just rushing the puck. He said her improvements offensively have helped her play better defense.

Aside from being a goaltender when she was five, Bozek has always been a defenseman.

She said that her favorite aspect of the position is being able to see the whole ice.

“Power play [and] penalty kill come with any position as well as scoring, but [I like] seeing the ice and kind of being the quarterback on a lot of plays,” Bozek said.

Freshman Milica McMillen has joined Bozek on the power play this season and said Bozek has been really helpful.

“If I don’t know what I’m doing on a play, I’ll ask her what to do [and] where to be in a certain situation,” McMillen said.

Baylee Gillanders, Bozek’s defensive partner so far this season, praised her hockey knowledge and said Bozek is there to “give you pointers on stuff that you might need help with.”

The Gophers are No. 1 in the nation and the defending national champions, but there are still bumps in the road at times.

And when those happen, Bozek’s roommate and teammate Katie Frischmann said Bozek always finds positives.

“If she’s not having her best game,” Frischmann said, “I just know that she’ll take her leadership role … and not get down and still place the team above herself.”

On Saturday, the Gophers led St. Cloud State by one goal entering the first intermission. Frischmann said the team wasn’t playing as well as it could be, and the coaches were upset.

After the coaches spoke, it was Bozek’s turn.

“She just said a couple words — ‘We’re winning, just keep it up, do better, we know we can play better,’” Frischmann said.

Frost said Bozek’s teammates voted her captain because they trust her and look to her to lead.

“Because she’s really the same person every day, people respect that, and they know they can trust her,” Frost said.

Part of earning that respect is bringing a consistently positive attitude. Bozek said she tries to take the positive things from mistakes even as emotions flare.

She said she was honored to be named a captain for the Gophers, but she downplayed the meaning of the “C.”

“I don’t think it matters if you have a ‘C’ or an ‘A’ or nothing on your jersey — you know what you’re supposed to do, and you’re going to be held accountable no matter what,” Bozek said.

But Frost said her leadership role rests partly on her status as one of the best players on the team.

Bozek, along with teammate Amanda Kessel, was recently named to USA’s Four Nations Cup roster.

When she puts on the USA sweater in November, it won’t be the first time and probably won’t be the last.

“It always gives me chills every game I’m able to put on a USA jersey. …There’s no greater feeling than playing for your country and hopefully making everyone proud,” Bozek said.

Bozek played on the USA’s 2012 International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship team and in the 2009 IIHF World Women’s Under-18 Championships.

Frost said for players who are able to hold their own against top competition, which Bozek did, the experience breeds confidence and leadership.

She still has work to do with the Gophers. But she said one of her post-collegiate goals is to make the Olympics — an accomplishment Frost said is possible if she keeps playing the way she does.

“Megan is one of those people that you’ll remember for the rest of your life as ‘That’s a kid that I coached,’” Frost said. “She’s that good and that special.”