Black Stick Michelsen begins road to recovery

PLENTY LEFT TO DO: Black Stick Stacey Michelsen.
PLENTY LEFT TO DO: Black Stick Stacey Michelsen.

It's been a tough journey back to the top for Black Sticks women's hockey player Stacey Michelsen, but her coach believes that journey has only just begun and she could become one of the best players in the world.

In April last year, in her home town of Whangarei, Michelsen and a Korean player collided causing a rare type of meniscal tear in her right knee.

Not fully aware of the damage caused, Michelsen played the rest of that four-nations tournament and the next one on her damaged limb.

Luckily for the 23-year-old, she did no further damage, but her 11-month trek back to full fitness was an extremely tough one, physically and mentally.

The 2011 FIH Young Hockey Player of the Year completed the four-hour round trip between Whangarei and Auckland more times than she cares to remember for treatment while also seeing a trainer in the far north.

She returned to the Black Sticks for last month's Festival of Hockey in the Hawke's Bay and on Monday heads to the Netherlands for the World Cup as part of New Zealand's strong 18-player squad.

There's no pain, no fear or caution and plenty more enjoyment for Michelsen now - 11 months on the sideline forced to watch will do that to a player.

"It's so good to be back," she said this week.

"I always enjoyed playing hockey, especially for New Zealand, but you don't realise how much until it's gone.

"It's been a pretty tough time, but hopefully that's all behind me now. What I've been through, I guess it makes it more special to me."

Michelsen's recovery was hindered by the fact she had favoured her left knee which caused a slight tendon problem, but that too is right and she's raring to cement her place back in the Black Sticks side and to contribute as she has in her previous 127 tests.

"The World Cup is going to be exciting and I'm so glad to be part of it."

Coach Mark Hager is glad she is too.

There's a joke going around the women's national team that praise is so hard to earn from Hager that when it does come the players need to make the most of it.

In that case, Michelsen should make the most of the following.

"She's a matchwinner," he said. "She has the ability to eliminate three or four players and score or set up someone else. She's invaluable for us. We're a better attacking team with her and a better defending team with her, so, yes, it's great to have her back," he said.

Michelsen's ability to take on defenders and beat them draws more opposition defenders out of position which allows the Black Sticks' strikers more room and time.

Hager went on to compare Michelsen with Argentina's eight-time FIH women's player of the year Luciana Aymar.

"Aymar is 36 and has been doing it for years, Stacey's only 23. She hasn't even reached her prime yet, but I know oppositions see her as a real threat.

"Stacey's not far off Aymar's ability on the field. She's proven it for years, Stacey just need to do it more and more now and I believe she can." Fairfax NZ