Belgium, England players dominate Hockey Stars Awards

Argentina was conspicuous by its absence among the men even as Belgium swept the first-ever FIH Hockey Stars Awards. Among the women, though, the awards were more equally distributed.

Belgium captain John-John Dohmen was named Player of the Year   -  Getty Images

From being non-entities to superpowers, Belgian hockey has traversed quite a distance in the last decade, topping off with a medal at the Rio Olympics, the first time ever since 1920. It was, then, perhaps not surprising that the man who has been the fulcrum of this growth process capped off an eminently memorable season with the biggest honour of them all – the FIH Player of the Year 2016.

John-John Dohmen, him with an incredible 330 international caps, has been leading his side to medals across the globe. A silver at the Rio Olympics, another silver at the Hockey World League Final and a second-place finish at the Hockey World League Semi-Finals – Dohmen has led from the front everywhere but admits it's now time to go a step further. “We seem to keep stumbling in the final. There have been many silvers, it's time now to get a gold,” he laughs when reminded of his team's record.

The Winners:
  • Player of the Year: Men: John-John Dohmen (Bel), Women: Naomi van As (Ned)
  • Goalkeeper of the Year: Men: David Harte (Ire), Women: Maddie Hinch (Eng)
  • Under-23 Player of the year: Men: Arthur van Doren (Bel), Women: Maria Granatto (Arg)
  • Coach of the Year: Men: Danny Kerry (Eng), Women: Karen Brown (Eng)
  • Umpire of the Year: Men: Christian Blasch (Ger), Women: Laurine Delforge (Bel)

But the award, he says, would only push him to target the elusive top spot with renewed determination. “This trophy is something special because it’s a historical moment for Belgian hockey. It’s just amazing because when I started as an international player, my dream was simply to touch the pitch at an Olympic Games,” said the three-time Olympian.

"Year after year, our dreams have become bigger and higher. This award will remind me all my life that, if you work hard and continue to believe in what you are doing, you can reach more than your dreams. I would like to thank my team mates, my family and my wife for helping me every day to be a better player and a better man,” he added.

The fact that he is still only 29 means Dohmen can well join the elite club of four-time Olympians at the 2020 edition. And the man who is likely to follow him to Tokyo joined Dohmen on the winner's platform here as Arthur van Doren stepped up to take the Under-23 Player of the Year award. Part of the Belgian national side since he was 17, the 22-year old van Doren was third time lucky after missing out on the award in 2013 and 2014.

Also lucky for the third time was English goalkeeper Maddie Hinch, whose heroics in the final of the Rio Olympics saw her saving four shoot-outs against defending champion Netherlands. “This is the third time I have been nominated but to win tops off a pretty surreal year. I am so excited to be here to accept the award in India as I am committed to raising the global profile of the sport. It’s wonderful to have this recognition as an individual, but I play a team sport, and to play at the highest level and win gold medals is always a team effort,” Hinch said.

At the other end of the awardees was Dutch star Naomi van As, who earned her second Player of the Year awards after a nine-year gap. The first one was in 2009 and since then, van As has been integral to the Dutch team, winning gold and silvers at the World Cup, the Olympics and the Champions Trophy. Having announced her retirement post Rio, van As said she was proud of her long career that began in 2003. “Looking back, I am very thankful, very proud and see it all as a great experience. Although it was serious, it was also always driven along with a sense of fun – with my team mates, the coaches and, of course, the fans,” she said.

It was, however, surprising that the Argentine men's team – which won its maiden Olympic medal, a gold, in 2016 – was completely unrepresented in the winners' list. The team had two nominations for the Player of the Year and one for the goalkeepers but remained empty-handed. India had two nominations – P.R. Sreejesh and Harmanpreet Singh – but couldn't win any either.

The changing dynamics in world hockey can be gauged from the fact that among the men, the powerhouses – Germany, Netherlands and Australia – had no winners. Australia, in fact, had just a single nomination across all categories – Kathryn Slattery in the young player category.