Even though she grew up the Chicago suburb of Buffalo Grove, it's easy to understand how Megan Bozek became a defenseman for the Gophers. This might be the State of Hockey, but she came from the Family of Hockey.
Her grandparents bought Megan her first skates at age 2. They were white, plastic and looked like boots. Her father played hockey and still referees. Her mother once attended a 10-week clinic to better understand the sport. Her two older brothers were forwards.
One of Bozek's brothers still plays recreational hockey, while the other had to quit the sport because of a bad back. But their former practice goalie at home -- who leads all Division I defensemen with nine goals heading into this weekend's No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup against Wisconsin at Ridder Arena -- turned out to be the family's best player.
Her brothers -- five and two years older -- shot pucks at Megan in the basement when she was a youngster.
"She was the youngest and her competitive fires burned inside her," said Tom Bozek, Megan's father. "We treated her no different."
Said Megan: "I have a tough side to me that I get from my brothers."
Tom Bozek said he remembers a national tournament in Chicago when Megan was 12. Megan, who played boys' hockey until high school, was the only girl on Team Illinois. One of her teammates was Notre Dame defenseman Sam Calabrese, who will be playing next door at Mariucci Arena this weekend. Gophers forward Amanda Kessel was among several other future standouts playing for other teams. Tom Bozek remembers saying at the time, "You are looking at the future of women's hockey."
Eventually, that development led to a college decision. Bozek picked the Gophers over Wisconsin and several East Coast schools.
"When I came to visit the U, I knew it was a home away from home," she said, "and I knew this is where I was meant to go to school for hockey."
With Bozek in the midst of a breakout junior season, Minnesota certainly is reaping the benefits of her choice. Her mother, Patti, said Megan is more physically fit than ever -- moms can tell with just a look. Tom Bozek credits his daughter's recent success partially to puck luck: "Her freshman year at the U, she hit 10 posts before her first goal."
Bozek had six goals in each of her freshman and sophomore seasons and almost the same number of points, 24 and 23. Those are solid stats, but nothing like her present pace after 20 games. She already has 24 points -- tied for first among blue-liners nationwide -- to go with the nine goals.
Bozek attended training camp in Blaine last week during which players were evaluated for the U.S. women's national team. The top 13 defensemen in the country were there, said Gophers coach Brad Frost, and Bozek played well.
Bozek hopes to play in the Olympics some day, but first there's this: the matchup between the nation's two top college women's teams. The No. 2- ranked Gophers split a pair of 3-2 decisions with defending NCAA champion Wisconsin in mid-October in Madison. The Badgers (19-1) are otherwise unbeaten.
Having players such as Bozek gives the Gophers (17-3) a chance. Frost's nutshell assessment of the 5-9 Bozek: Strong, good size and speed, great shot. Consistent. Runs the top power player. One of the best penalty killers.
"She is now somebody we can trust in every situation," Frost said.