Gonzaga enters the annual National Capital Hockey Tournament in the midst of a trophy drought. Per their own lofty standards on Eye Street, the Eagles have failed to win the tournament they host each December — known as the “Purple Puck” — or the Mid-Atlantic Prep Hockey League playoffs in either of the past two seasons.
“Losing is tough for a school like Gonzaga. Everyone in the school knows what’s going on with each team,” junior defenseman Conor O’Leary said. “Nobody wants a reputation for not being able to finish.”
Jesuit rival Georgetown Prep will also skate in the 24th edition of the NCHT, along with past participants Calvert Hall (Baltimore), St. Joseph’s Prep (Pa.) and two-time defending champion The Hun School (N.J.). Loyola Montreal will be traveling south of the border to make its first appearance in the tournament.
For the local contingent, matchups with Northeastern schools represent both an intimidating challenge and a welcome break from routine.
“I definitely think that unknown factor plays a role in our mind-set,” O’Leary said. “When you play a team from Canada or the Northeast, there’s a bias that they’ll be better, bigger and stronger. We have a tendency to let that get in our heads.”
On the other hand, lining up across from unfamiliar jerseys can also be liberating.
“You don’t go into a game saying, ‘Oh, we’re playing Landon or Gonzaga’; ‘We’re playing St. Albans.’ We’re just playing hockey,” Georgetown Prep senior MacDowell Johnston said. “It’s refreshing to not be bogged down on the emotional side of it, just relax and play our game.”
No. 2 Gonzaga (8-2) has won five straight games since losing to St. Joseph’s, 6-1, in Philadelphia on Nov. 25. No. 7 Georgetown Prep (4-3) hopes to reach the semifinals for another shot at the Eagles after a 7-2 defeat Dec. 8.
The finalists will play five 50-minute games in three days. That test of line depth and conditioning will prepare both teams for February’s MAPHL playoffs.
“We’re going to have to use the full bench and see what everyone can do,” Johnston said.
For the third year in a row, Georgetown Visitation and Holy Cross will face off Friday before the final to showcase the area’s growing girls’ high school hockey scene.
(All games at Fort Dupont Ice Arena)
Georgetown Prep vs. Calvert Hall, 11 a.m.
The Hun School vs. Loyola Montreal, 1 p.m.
St. Joseph’s Prep vs. Gonzaga, 5 p.m.
The Hun School vs. Calvert Hall, 9 a.m.
Georgetown Prep vs. St. Joseph’s Prep, 11 a.m.
Gonzaga vs. Calvert Hall, 1 p.m.
St. Joseph’s Prep vs. Loyola Montreal, 4 p.m.
Gonzaga vs. The Hun School, 6 p.m.
Semifinals, 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.
Georgetown Visitation vs. Holy Cross, 3 p.m. (girls’ game)
Championship, 5 p.m.