Hockey: Gemma McCaw, Black Sticks mourn death of strength and conditioning coach Brad Conza

Gemma McCaw's 250th test cap for the Black Sticks has been soured by the death of the team's strength & conditioning coach.

Brad Conza died hours before New Zealand's penalty-shootout loss to Great Britain on Sunday - McCaw's landmark test.

Conza had worked with New Zealand Hockey for a decade, after a stint with the Football Ferns.

In a social media post, McCaw spoke of her pride in such a monumental achievement, while also mourning the death of "a very special man".

"Yesterday was also a very sad day for our Black Sticks family," McCaw wrote on Instagram.

"He lit up every room with his smile, and he had the most infectious laugh and was the kindest person I've ever met. It's so very sad he is no longer with us in person, but his spirit will live on forever."

McCaw only recently returned to the international arena after a three-year break, as she and husband Richie McCaw started a family, welcoming daughter Charlotte in December 2018.

Gemma McCaw singled out her husband - the two-time World Cup-winning All Blacks captain - for giving her the drive to return to the Black Sticks. 

"I feel I can give anything a go with you by my side," she said. "As a little girl, with my eyes glued to the TV watching the Olympics, I dreamed of one day becoming a Black Stick.

"I was fortunate enough to play my first test for the team I looked up to so much in 2008 and yesterday, 12 years later, I got to play my 250th.

"I've realised sport is what we do, it's not who we are. It doesn't define us, but it helps shape us in so many ways.

"It's not just where you are going, but who's by your side that counts. I'll never forget the people I've played alongside, the places I've been and the memories I've made.

"I've learnt so many things over the years, through the highs and lows, and am grateful each day for this journey."