While the Black Sticks Men's team started the year without a coach, the kiwi women headed over to Argentina to face the locals on their hockey-mad home turf. With the final Test called off via the weather gods, the Black Sticks Women finished up with a win, three losses and a draw and will now await the arrival of team USA before the Hawke's Bay Festival gets underway in late March.
Coach Mark Hager took a youngish squad over to Argentina with a bunch of established Black Sticks taking some time off after the Olympics. That's usually the case and the end of an Olympic cycle offers the opportunity to bring in new faces, freshen up veterans and generally regroup. Sam Charlton, Ella Gunson, Rose Keddell, Olivia Merry, Stacey Michelsen, Brook Neal, Kelsey Smith and Liz Thompson all went to Argentina and they'll form the core of this team moving forward in the next few years.
The only catch was that Hager wasn't actually in Argentina, he was in India coaching the Kalinga Lancers to their first Hockey India League title. Black Sticks Men's captain Simon Child was also in India, playing for Delhi Waveriders.
Two Tests against USA in Rangiora will now provide an interesting junction for Hager as he could opt to roll out a similar squad to that which toured Argentina, or he may streamline the squad a wee bit. I suspect the general idea - as we've seen throughout Hager's tenure - will be to continue to build a large squad with plenty of depth, which could see less-experienced players such as Frances Davies, Stephanie Dickins, Erin Goad, Tessa Jopp, Amy Robinson and Phoebe Steele could another chance to impress before the Festival.
On the men's side, former Black Stick Darren Smith has been named coach and he'll get his first run as coach against Pakistan in five Tests mid-late March. The first three Tests will be in Wellington, followed by two Tests in Wairarapa and while it's business as usual on for the women, a change in coach after the end of an Olympic cycle will offer a splash of funk to the men's team.
Smith was appointed coach after the 2017 Black Sticks Men's squad was announced, which could make things weird however a full-strength Black Sticks squad is fairly easy to pick. David Brydon and Kim Kingstone are the big winners, climbing up into the national squad after earning their debuts late last year while Steve Edwards and Nick Wilson weren't selected.
Just as the women's core is incredibly exciting, there is a strong group of experienced lads in this men's team that will ensure that the Black Sticks Men continue to be - at the very least - a niggly challenge for the world's best teams. They still have a world-class attacking group led by Simon Child along with Stephen Jenness and Hugo Inglis, while a spine of Shea McAleese, Arun Panchia, Blair Tarrant, James Coughlin and Nick Haig is about as solid as they come.
Here's the first round of hockey funk that I could muster up for 2017...