The annual National Capital Hockey Tournament serves as a turning point for top-ranked Gonzaga every season, according to Eagles Coach Nate Jackson. The host school for the event nicknamed the Purple Puck benefits from playing out-of-state competition and quality local teams just after the holidays and usually emerges as a stronger squad in January as a direct result.
The Eagles (8-0-1) will face O’Connell in Saturday’s first game at the Fort Dupont Ice Arena, but the contest will not count toward tournament results. Gonzaga is playing an extra game to fill in for an eighth team that dropped out of the field.
Gonzaga’s 21st annual Purple Puck quest kicks off in earnest with a 7 p.m. match against St. Joseph’s Prep (Pa.). This year’s competition features a more locally based field than last year’s event, which drew schools from Chicago, Cleveland, New York and Philadelphia. The Eagles fell short of a sixth Purple Puck title last year with a 2-1 loss to Cleveland’s Saint Ignatius in the final.
St. Joseph’s is the only returning out-of-area competitor and an “annual presence” in the tournament, Jackson said. Gonzaga beat the Hawks, 4-3, in Philadelphia over Thanksgiving weekend.
“They’re going to make a mark on this tournament,” Jackson said. “I made sure that we’d see them again.”
The Hun School from Princeton, N.J., joins the field for the first time and adds another non-local squad to the mix. Though the Eagles have never faced the Raiders, Jackson expects a talented prep school squad that should pose another challenge in the seven-team field.
“The great thing about this tournament is that you sometimes don’t know anything about these other teams,” Jackson said.
Bullis (2-1), DeMatha (6-13) and St. Albans (3-2) round out the competition. The Stags already have wins against O’Connell and Bullis this season but lost to both the Eagles and St. Joseph’s.
Gonzaga vs. O’Connell, 9 a.m.
St. Albans vs. DeMatha, 11 a.m.
Hun School (N.J.) vs. Bullis, 1 p.m.
Gonzaga vs. St. Joseph’s Prep (Pa.), 7 p.m.
St. Albans vs. O’Connell, 9 a.m.
DeMatha vs. Hun School, 11 a.m.
St. Joseph’s Prep vs. St. Albans, 1 p.m.
O’Connell vs. Bullis, 3 p.m.
Gonzaga vs. Hun School, 5 p.m.
DeMatha vs. St. Joseph’s Prep, 7 p.m.
Gonzaga vs. Bullis, 9 p.m.
Semifinals, 9/11 a.m.
Final, 5 p.m.