Gonzaga falls, 5-1, to St. Joseph's Prep in Purple Puck semifinals

By Jason Mackey
Friday, January 1, 2010

With 3 minutes 59 seconds left in the second half of the Gonzaga ice hockey team's Purple Puck semifinal against St. Joseph's Prep on Thursday morning, Gonzaga's Sammy Gerdano skated to the penalty box, opened the door and sat down, unaware that any part of this process might be unnecessary.

The only problem was that Gerdano wasn't guilty of anything and had entered the penalty box on his own accord; Gonzaga had only been called for offsides.

While the non-call might have offered a light moment, third-ranked Gonzaga wasn't laughing after nine penalties led to a pair of power-play goals for St. Joseph's Prep -- and ultimately a 5-1 win for the Philadelphia school at Fort Dupont Ice Arena.

"It's hard to get up and go when you're sitting in the box and trying to kill a penalty," Gonzaga Coach Nate Jackson said. "It's really deflating as a team, and you're typically not going to win a lot of games if you take more penalties than the other team."

Coupled with No. 9 Whitman's 3-2 loss to Garden Valley, which traveled from Winkler, Manitoba, and is the alma mater of Capitals winger Eric Fehr, the Purple Puck championship game featured a pair of out-of-town teams for the first time in the tournament's 17-year history.

The Zodiacs beat St. Joseph's Prep in the championship game, 7-4, becoming the first Canadian team to win -- and play in, for that matter -- the Purple Puck. Behind two goals from Carson Wiebe, Garden Valley broke open what was at one point a 3-3 game.

In Gonzaga's semifinal loss, it first appeared as if the Eagles would be able to overcome their propensity for taking penalties. They were whistled five times in the first of two 25-minute halves but gave up only one goal, as the teams entered halftime tied.

But in the second half, the Eagles' mistakes started to catch up with them, as St. Joseph's junior Kevin Melone scored the first of his three goals at 7:12 while Gonzaga's Rainey Brown was in the penalty box for hooking.

"It was frustrating in the second half when we got off our game and they started scoring on our mistakes," said Gerdano, who scored the Eagles' lone goal and finished the tournament with six points. Jack Slater led Gonzaga (8-3) with six goals, while Pierce Radecki had a team-best seven points in the three-day tournament.

Of his near penalty, Gerdano admitted that he thought he had hooked a St. Joseph's player.

"The way they were calling the game, I was actually surprised that I wasn't called for a penalty," Gerdano said. "I hooked a guy a little bit and I wouldn't have been surprised if they put me in the box for that."

In the morning's first game, Whitman's Nick Domingos appeared to have atoned for a pair of early minor penalties when he hurdled a Garden Valley defender and scored from the right-wing circle with 12:57 left in the second half to tie the score at 2.

But 2:19 later, Garden Valley's Dale Harder flipped a backhanded shot past Whitman goaltender Connor Gordon (36 saves) for his tournament-best eighth goal. Lucas Karron also scored for Whitman, which dropped to 10-2-3 this season. Karron tied Aiden Neustadtl for the team lead in points with seven during the Purple Puck.

"We caught a bad break at the end, but that's life," Whitman Coach Andy Wolfe said. "They played really smart hockey. I'm proud of the way they did what we asked them to do."

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