Hockey: Mark Hager will be missed - Stacey Michelsen

Mark Hager leaves Black Sticks women's hockey in much better shape than when he arrived, according to captain Stacey Michelsen.

The Australian has taken up the head coaching role with Great Britain and England, ending a near decade-long stint in charge of New Zealand.

Languishing at the bottom end of the world's top 10 when he took over, the Black Sticks climbed inside the top three and won Commonwealth gold in 2018.

Michelsen admits she was a fan of Hager's intense approach when it came to the team culture he developed, claiming that environment is what's needed to achieve success at the elite level of sport.

"He had really high standards for us as players, and I think that is really important in allowing us to develop as individuals and for the team to be able to compete with the best teams in the world," she told Newshub.

"You have to be accountable to be successful in high-level sport and he certainly made sure that we were as players."

Hager's approach is the subject of an ongoing review into the national team culture. Launched in September, the review is looking at allegations of a negative team environment after it emerged some players had felt intimated by Hager's tough tactics.

Michelsen though believes the team culture was a winning one developed through Hager's demand of the players and their performances, both on the field and off.

"I don't personally think we had a harsh culture," she said. "We had high expectations of each other and that is certainly important in high-level sport and the way that Mark pushed us and challenged us is something we need in terms of development.

"In New Zealand sport you have to be willing to train hard, to compete hard and willing to be told when things need to be better and I think that is something that is very important within our team.

"If you are not willing to be told that you need to be better, then you will never get better."

Hager had a near decade-long tenure in charge of the national team.
Hager had a near decade-long tenure in charge of the national team. Photo credit: Photosport
Sam Charlton in action.
Sam Charlton in action. Photo credit: Photosport

Michelsen's views on the Black Sticks' culture were backed by teammate Sam Charlton. Having been capped 219 times under Hager's watch, the 27-year-old has only known a New Zealand side coached by the 54-year-old.

Charlton believes players' opinions on coaching tactics vary.

Everyone's experience is different. I think we can all say he was someone who pushed us to become a high performing team," Charlton told Newshub.

"No one wants to be part of a team that constantly performs badly on the world stage so we have a lot of gratitude for what Mark has done to make sure we are a team that competes with the best.

"He has made a huge mark on hockey in New Zealand, pulling us up from where we were when he took over to the point we were competing with the very best teams in the world.

"He has left that mark on us as players as well in terms of that work ethic he has instilled in us, and the way he has developed our technical and tactical knowledge of the game.

"He is just someone with an incredible wealth of hockey knowledge and we appreciate everything he has done for hockey and his players."

New Zealand's loss is Great Britain and England's gain - the current world number two-ranked side (England) shocked the hockey world in 2016 when they topped the Netherlands in the final in Rio.

Newshub understands the Australian has turned down at least two previous advances from Great Britain, but they finally got their man.

Michelsen expects them to get even better under Hager, and can understand his desire for change.

"For Mark, it is a fantastic opportunity," she said. "They are one of the best teams in the world - they are the current Olympic champions and I guess moving into a programme like that is really exciting for any coach.

"For Mark, I know it was a really hard decision because he didn't want to leave - he loved living in and coaching in New Zealand - he felt New Zealand was home, but I think after being with us for 10 years it was he felt it was the right time to take up a new, exciting opportunity."

Assistant coach Sean Dancer will look after the squad for the upcoming Pro League fixtures against the Netherlands and Belgium.