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Megan Bozek impresses with PWHPA and championship KRS Vanke Rays

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In the world of hockey, very few people can boast a body of work as spectacular as Megan Bozek; One of the most accomplished skaters of her generation, highlighted by the pinnacle of wearing the Stars and Stripes for USA Hockey.

Serving as team captain for the Minnesota Golden Gophers in her senior season, resulting in an undefeated mark of 28-0-0, an unprecedented first, Bozek’s final game provided a second straight Frozen Four championship. Following such an achievement, her hockey odyssey continued with competition on the world’s grandest stage, skating with the US National Team at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Bozek’s pair of NCAA Frozen Four championship rings with the Minnesota Golden Gophers (Image obtained from Facebook)

 

CWHL & NWHL CAREER

Claimed by the Toronto Furies with the second pick overall in the 2014 CWHL Draft, the transaction allowed Bozek to become a hockey icon on both sides of the border. With a celebrated run in the province of Ontario that included participation in the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game, played on NHL ice at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, Bozek experienced another special brush with history, hoisting the Clarkson Cup in 2018 with the Markham Thunder, a celebrated first in franchise history.

Between her stints with the Furies and Thunder, Bozek also migrated down the Queen Elizabeth Way, signing with the NWHL’s Buffalo Beauts. Spending two seasons in the Queen City, amassing a solid 23 points in 32 games played, Bozek also appeared in the the league’s first two All-Star Games. Belonging to the Beauts’ Isobel Cup championship roster, which also featured fellow Americans Brianne McLaughlin, Corinne Buie, Shiann Darkangelo, Emily Janiga and Kelley Steadman, it signified the first hockey championship for the market since the Buffalo Bisons defeated the Springfield Kings to capture the 1970 Calder Cup.

Bozek hoists the Isobel Cup with the Buffalo Beauts (Image obtained from Facebook)

PWHPA

The 2019-20 season was no exception in terms of milestones for the talented blueliner. With the introduction of the PWHPA, an organization admirably aiming to bring about better opportunities for the female game, collectively geared towards attaining a living wage and a sustainable future, the feeling of homecoming and achievement encompassed a significant season, and career, highlight.

Hosting a series of Showcase Events throughout fall and winter on both sides of the border, part of the Association’s Dream Gap Tour, Bozek was among a staple of world-class competitors delighting fans in venues such as Toronto and Chicago.

With Toronto’s Westwood Arena hosting the inaugural Showcase, sponsored by Unifor from September 21-22, 2019, Bozek made her PWHPA debut as a member of Team Jenner, named after captain Brianne Jenner. With over a dozen Thunder alumane on the roster, including the likes of Laura Fortino, Jocelyne Larocque and Jamie Lee Rattray, who also ran a preseason hockey camp with Bozek in August 2019 in Mississauga. The coaching staff included former Thunder star Cherie Piper, whose last season of pro hockey involved skating for the Thunder in Brampton during the 2012-13 season and returning as an assistant coach for the 2018-19 season. Reflecting on the experience and the presence of so many former figures in Thunder lore, the theme of reunion was most prevalent.

(L-R): Lindsay Grigg, Megan Bozek and Jamie Lee Rattray all smiles with the Clarkson Cup. (Image obtained from: https://www.facebook.com/TheAthleteTrainingCentre/)

“I enjoyed getting together on the weekends to play competitive games with different coaching for every team. Not too often do you get four Olympic medalists behind the bench at a Showcase. They want to give back, and we are all wanting to learn something from them.”

Undeniably, no event held as much emotions for Bozek as the Magellan Corporation Women’s Showcase. Contested from October 19-20 at Chicago’s Fifth Third Arena, the feeling of emotion served as a defining factor for the highly talented blueliner. Returning to her home state, raised in Buffalo Grove, the event encompassed the feeling of homecoming and celebration.

With the presence of female sporting icon Billie-Jean King on hand, the event took on a grander sense of importance as Hockey Hall of Famer Cammi Granato, who was also raised in Illinois, served as one of the coaches. Having gained a place in American sporting immortality as the captain of the national team in a gold medal winning effort at the Nagano 1998 Winter Games, Granato’s career represents a body of work that inspired an entire generation of young American women to take up the game.

A teammate of Granato at Nagano 1998, Angela Ruggiero, whose sterling hockey resume includes competition with the Harvard University Crimson, the Boston Blades, plus a prominent role on the International Olympic Committee, competed in four different Winter Games competitions. Taking on a coaching role at the Showcase, it marked her first appearance at a PWHPA event.

Bozek, whose international resume also involves a gold medal at the 2013 IIHF Women’s World Championships, suited up for Team Ruggiero. With a roster of highly familiar faces, including a handful of USA Hockey alumnae, the remarkable gathering of world-class talent was evident on each roster. For Bozek, dynasty and destiny collided, able to share in this milestone with a pair of American hockey icons, while emulating the standing of Granato and Ruggiero as inspiring role models, sending a powerful message for the young fans in attendance about the riveting potential for the game’s future.

“It was absolutely amazing, inspiring, and humbling to have one of my idols, Cammi Granato, coaching a team in Chicago, along with Angela Ruggiero, Jayna Hefford, and Lori Dupuis who were instrumental and game changers for Team USA and Team Canada. With Cammi recently getting hired by Seattle, it just shows that women belong in professional sports, at the highest level!”

Photo credit; Heather Pollock

SHENZHEN KRS VANKE RAYS CHAMPIONSHIP

Before the season expired, Bozek’s hockey odyssey took on another exciting chapter as she made the journey across the Pacific, competing with China’s Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays club. From the outset, goaltender Noora Raty called Bozek a teammate at the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, part of back-to-back NCAA Frozen Four championship teams.

In addition, Alexandra Carpenter, a teammate on the national team for the 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds and Sochi 2014, was one of the highly talented imports skating for the Rays. Coached by Brian Idalski, his presence also rekindled feelings of Bozek’s glory years, as he once served in the capacity of head coach for the University of North Dakota, a one-time conference rival of Minnesota whose roster featured the legendary Lamoureux twins.

Appearing in 14 games for the Rays, Bozek would average one point per game, finding the back of the net on five separate occasions. As the only remaining team left from the decimated CWHL still competing, Bozek’s unique backstory adds a tinge of coincidence.

Opposing Bozek and the Markham Thunder in the 2018 Clarkson Cup Finals were the Kunlun Red Star, one of two CWHL expansion teams based in China, the other being the Vanke Rays. Among the notable players in the paraphernalia involved Raty and Carpenter. Of note, the season that saw Raty become the first European player to capture the CWHL Goaltender of the Year Award, while Kelli Stack, another former USA Hockey teammate, also made history, capturing the Angela James Bowl, the first American to do so.

Although it was the Thunder that emerged victorious, as Laura Stacey scored the Cup-clinching goal in an intense overtime frame. With the Red Star and Rays having amalgamated in the final CWHL season, becoming the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays, the franchise found a new home in Russia’s Women’s Hockey League when the CWHL folded.

Bozek would prove to be an ideal fit for the Rays, which saw Carpenter win the league’s scoring champion with a superlative 54 points. Joined by American skaters Claudia Kepler, who competed with Ohio State and Wisconsin, plus Amy Menke, an alum of North Dakota, who won an Isobel Cup with the Minnesota Whitecaps, there was also the presence of Rachel Llanes. A charter member of the franchise, Llanes won back-to-back championships, capturing the 2015 Clarkson Cup and the 2016 Isobel Cup. Coincidentally, Llanes who celebrated the milestone of her 150th professional game this season, and Bozek opposed each other in the Isobel Cup Finals in both 2016 and 2017.

Image obtained from: https://www.facebook.com/ShenzhenKRS/photos/a.1445246245654522/1445256438986836/?type=3&theater

“In 2018, winning the Clarkson Cup with the Thunder was such a great way to finish off a heartbreak of a season for me. KRS had many talented players that year. Playing for them this season was really fun and a great experience, getting to travel to China, different parts of Russia, and winning the WHL championship!”

Capturing the Russian league championship, as the Rays swept Agidel Ufa in three games, it was a number that held strong connotations for Bozek. Not only did it mark her third professional championship, joining Cherie Hendrickson and Llanes, as the only American-born players to have won the Clarkson and Isobel Cups, plus a Russian-league title, it also signified a third championship won alongside Raty.

“It is always so fun to win! I won two National Championships at University of Minnesota with Noora Raty in 2012 and 2013, so, winning again with her was very special.

Playing against a handful of girls that were on the KRS team in college, including our head coach, is always interesting because you either won or lost, but never the same outcome for both. All in all, winning the WHL championship, in three games, was really special.”

Featured image by Heather Pollock

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