Team USA broke out in song after their first training-camp session in Long Island, N.Y., in late March. Players skated toward Megan Bozek singing Happy Birthday, offering love taps and hugs.
“I’m getting old,” joked the 28-year-old defender afterwards in the Northwell Health Ice Arena lobby. Team USA spent five days at the New York Islanders' practice facility before departing for the 2019 Women’s World Championship. After the training session, players tried on everything from pullovers to parkas, in preparation for Espoo, Finland.
“It’s always fun to go to camp, you get some goodies,” Bozek said. “But now we're here (and) the work starts, it already started this morning.”
Even on her birthday, Bozek had her eyes of the prize. The U.S. begins tournament play on Thursday against the host country, the first test on their quest for a fifth consecutive World Championship gold medal. Bozek’s list of accolades is equally impressive. She has an Olympic medal, four World Championship medals, seven Four Nations medals, two NCAA titles with the University of Minnesota and two professional titles.
Despite her resume, Bozek did not crack the Olympic roster that was revealed live at the 2018 NHL Winter Classic. She was one of several surprising omissions under coach Robb Stauber. “When disappointment hits you, you don’t really know what you want,” said Bozek last summer. Retirement was never on the table, so finding a team to join for the playoffs was her goal.
She considered playing overseas, and had conversations with her former NWHL team, the Buffalo Beauts. In the end, the CWHL's Markham Thunder offered Bozek the fresh start she wanted. The decision paid off. Two days before her 27th birthday, Bozek and the Thunder captured the 2018 Clarkson Cup with a 2-1 over Kunlun Red Star in overtime.
Her decision to return to the CWHL – she had previously played for the Toronto Furies in 2014-15 – was the beginning of a new chapter. After winning the league championship, Bozek attended a Team USA evaluation camp. In November, she made the 2018 Four Nations team and has not missed a roster since.
Bozek is getting a look under new coach Bob Corkum. “We’re all, myself mostly, very new to the women’s side of (USA Hockey), so I’m still trying to get my hands around what we have in the player pool,” Corkum said. The former Islanders assistant coach, who took the reins in October, expects the U.S. roster will continue to change as the program gears up for the 2022 Olympics.
When asked about Bozek, Corkum noted the 5-foot-8 defender offers good size that will come in handy, especially against Canada. Like anyone who has seen her play, he also mentioned her shot from the point, affectionately known as the ‘Bozek Blast.’ Above all, USA Hockey is happy to have another veteran. “Obviously, her experience is first and foremost,” Corkum said.
Bozek is getting closer to becoming a mainstay in the USA Hockey system. However, part of the equation is a place to play when she's not with the national team. Before news of the CWHL folding effective May 1, Bozek wanted to return to the Thunder. “I've loved my time at Markham and I'm hoping that I will get an opportunity to go back there and play,” she said.
She also hinted U.S players would collectively assess the state of women’s hockey, as they did in 2015 ahead of the inaugural NWHL season. “We'll get together here, we'll come together as a group to figure out what pushes people have made, can make.”
In 2015, Team USA players opted to all play in the NWHL. This past season, Bozek and five others on the World Championship roster skated in the CWHL.
Talks of the NWHL offering reprieve to women’s hockey in Canada have circulated, and it was announced Tuesday that the NWHL will expand to include teams in Toronto and Montreal next season. There has also been talk of investors reviving the CWHL. For now, though, Bozek and other Team USA players affected by the recent news will focus on winning gold in Finland.