By Ross Forman
Tom Bozek was on the ice for an adult league game at Twin Rinks Ice Pavilion in Buffalo Grove on Friday night, Feb. 20, marking the 6,000th game in his officiating career.
Bozek, 54, a Buffalo Grove resident, has been officiating for 21 years and now averages about 275 games annually – down from 325 in his younger days.
“I’m glad, satisfied giving back to the greatest game in the world,” said Bozek, who was greeted in the locker room by a bottle of wine and trophy to recognize his milestone.
He worked the game with Nick Fiorito.
“It’s been a long road, but it’s gone quickly,” said Bozek, who recalls that, in his 5,000th career game, he assessed a fighting and match penalties. His career also has included officiating state and regional championships and countless adult league championship games.
Bozek said he began meticulously tracking his officiating career because, well, “the IRS requires you to do so … so I kept a spreadsheet from the beginning,” he said.
Bozek’s first game as an official was a peewee house league game in Glenview and though he doesn’t recall his partner, Bozek admits he was, “very nervous and kept skating goal line to goal line thinking my partner was hung up and wouldn’t get into the zone,” he said, laughing. “My first year, I only (officiated) house league games, 37 of them, because I wanted to learn how to do it right.”
Bozek admitted he’s a bit slower in his post-50 career, but “always have had patience and kept perspective that it’s always about the players—nothing else.”
Bozek is, of course, the father of a pretty good player. His daughter, Megan, was a silver-medal winner with the U.S. Olympic Team at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Tom’s officiating career was put on hold a year ago when he was overseas in support of Megan and Team USA.
“Every game, no matter where, someone always asks how Megan is doing and every couple of games, I get asked how (my son) Stephen is doing,” the proud Dad said. “Every now and then, others remember (my other son,) Dan.
“I am so proud of all my kids having played the game. Their playing has made me a better ref.”
Bozek also praised Don Olynyk, who “provided opportunities,” Dave Siatta, who was an “early mentor,” and of course his family, which “allowed me to pursue this.” He also noted that countless friends in the sport “keep you connected and numerous (fellow) officials who are great to work with.”
Bozek said he is undecided if he will officiate again next season. “I highly doubt I’ll work 7,000 (career games), but never say never,” he said.
Ross Forman has written about Illinois high school hockey for more than 15 years, and is the only sportswriter to have covered Illinois High School hockey every year during that stretch. He played locally and then at Indiana University before becoming a referee. Ross was a referee for the State Championship game several years ago at the United Center. Contact Ross by email at Rossco814@aol.com.