He is known in hockey circles as Buddha so it doesn't come as a surprise that Shea McAleese is spiritually sharing the limelight for winning the supreme hockey award in New Zealand with fellow Black Sticks men.

"I can only do my job with so many players around me so anyone of the guys could have got it so I think I was maybe one of the lucky ones," says McAleese, from Belgium where he plays for Braxgata and will this weekend, as coach, lead the premier women's team into the country's final.

"I guess it's a bit of an honour to get an award like that. It's not just a recognition from your playing peers but also from the coaching staff but the cool part, perhaps, about it was that it was such a big year with the Olympics on," says the 32-year-old defender/midfielder who last September had no intentions of hiding behind the word "choke" when the men conceded three goals in the last four minutes to Germany in Rio to miss out on a medal-qualifying berth.

"It's always nice to know you've had a good year in a major hockey year but the big difference, I feel, must be a hard award to give when you're in a team sport," he says, likening it to rugby where it's not easy to distinguish a player of the year.


McAleese suspects he played well last year and tried to help others, especially in assuming the mantle of leadership in defence.

"I think when you look at awards like that it's not necessarily just about you but how much you give back to the group both on and off the field.

"I think I also felt more comfortable in my game. As you get older you know more about your strengths and your limitations so you kind of stick to them for consistency."

McAleese, who is a nominee in Hawke's Bay Today's People's Choice Awards, juxtaposes that quality with the back-end career of former All Black skipper Richie McCaw.

"He probably never played a bad game because he knew what was good and what he couldn't do so he stuck with his game."

The 243-cap international, who plays for Central Mavericks in the NHL, had eventually discovered he had developed a genre which he adhered to with a certain fervour to find conformity.

He is an advocate of injecting young blood into the Black Sticks and sees the results at last week's annual Sultan Azlan Shah Memorial Trophy tournament in Malaysia as an endorsement of putting faith in his successors.

"To draw with Australia, beat Japan and beat Malaysia in front of their home crowd were pretty good results although the two that were disappointing were the India results but that can always happen with a youthful side," he says.

All that, he reckons, is an ideal dress rehearsal for World League 3 in South Africa in July in a bid to make the FIH World Cup.

McAleese's last test match was in Melbourne last November but he took time out to focus on his Belgium stint.

"It was also not a bad time to have a break and give these younger guys a bit of a crack at international hockey as well."

The Black Sticks men's training camp in Gold Coast will double up as a selection for the World League 3 side.

He has signed a yearly renewable contract, until May next year, to be the director of the club. The position entails playing, coaching and embracing high-performance administrative duties.

"It's set me in the right direction for life after hockey as well," he says before he eventually returns to New Zealand to work in sport.

He thanks his father, Dan McAleese, for receiving the award on his behalf and, as always, the Bay community for their support.

Dan isn't aware of any Bay person who has won the award, especially a male.

The Tamatea Intermediate teacher says he and wife Margie are always proud of their son no matter what, as the case is for any parent, but in this instance McAleese had singularly put his energy into something and achieved it.

"Personally he did very well at the last Olympics as a player and I know he got ranked very highly over there so it's a nice [acknowledgement] for his commitment over the years," says Dan.

McAleese, he believes, is a living billboard of how anyone can grow up here, go through the age-group ranks to represent the country at the pinnacle and accomplish personal milestones.

Dan says his son is fiercely proud of his origins in the Bay and religiously returns to coach here.

"He talks at as many schools as he can but, being a professional athlete like he is and working overseas so much, he's not back in Hawke's Bay often," says the father, revealing they don't see him that often despite talking to him regularly via social media.

"There are a lot of people over the years to thank for supporting him ... because it's not a cheap exercise to get him where he's at because for the first few years it was very tough."

Fellow CD veteran Kayla Whitelock (nee Sharland) won the female equivalent. The former Black Sticks captain and Central Mysticks midfielder/forward retired after the Kiwi women finished fourth at Rio.

Squad members also voted the playmaker women's player's player of the year. The men's player's player gong went to Blair Tarrant.