Three years ago, the National Capital Hockey Tournament, or Purple Puck, had devolved into a one-division tournament that catered more to junior varsity squads than visiting prep schools. But with the arrival of a new coach, the popularity of the Washington Capitals and the upswing in area hockey, the Purple Puck is now a five-day, multi-division endeavor.
It’s known for its ability to bring high-level competition from Northern and Midwestern schools and is a significant source of funding for the Fort Dupont Ice Arena in Southeast Washington each year.
It’s also a staple of Gonzaga hockey culture.
The Eagles took home their own tournament trophy with a 6-0 win against the Hun School of Princeton, N.J., on Monday night. It marked Gonzaga’s second Purple Puck championship in three years and its sixth in the tournament’s 21-year history.
“This feels good. We won the league championship last year but not the Purple Puck,” Coach Nate Jackson said. “It’s nice to win our own tournament, with all of the parents working and everyone out here to see us, hoping for us to do well.”
Gonzaga took down the Raiders, 5-3, just 24 hours before the championship game, but the Eagles entered the rink Monday down four players to a variety of sudden ailments and injuries.
Jackson was forced to combine some lines for unfamiliar pairings — such as captain and tournament MVP Bobby Hally and sophomore Jack Sanborn. The combination resulted in two Hally goals (both on Sanborn assists) and two Sanborn goals (both assisted by Hally) to close out a four-goal second period.
Goalie Nick Platais, the tournament MVP during the Eagles’ 2011 Purple Puck championship, finished with 28 saves.
“We just started clicking,” Hally said. “Things got mixed around, and we were just working with it. Me and Jack [Sanborn] had never played together, but we just went out and did really well with it. We definitely played our best hockey in this tournament.”
The Eagles won the most recent Mid-Atlantic Prep Hockey League championship but have never won both the Purple Puck and a league title in the same season. Capturing the second of those honors is Gonzaga’s goal entering 2014, Hally said, and the Purple Puck helps “whip the team into shape.”
This year’s event included an appearance from members of the 2009-10 championship squad and a poster display with photos of past Eagles squads dating from 1993 — including Jackson and the 1999 team.
Jackson’s ability to transform the struggling tournament, combined with the increased interest in hockey in the area, has provided a big boost as this year’s event included several of the best local programs.
“You can thank the Caps for that. You can thank [Alex] Ovechkin. About the time the Caps really started to get good was when hockey around here started to do better,” Jackson said. “It’s nice to see their effect on the entire city.”