The past two years host Gonzaga watched as other teams battled in the final of its National Capital Hockey Tournament. As they skidded through a string of five one-goal losses in six games this season, the Eagles seemed doomed to another early exit in the Washington area’s oldest high school hockey tournament.
But the young squad — which features 11 underclassmen on its 18-player roster — picked the perfect time to play its best hockey of the season. Seventh-ranked Gonzaga captured its fifth “Purple Puck” title in 19 years and first since 2008 on Friday with a 5-1 win over No. 4 Georgetown Prep at Fort Dupont Ice Arena.
“I’m not sure if the freshman really understand,” Gonzaga Coach Nate Jackson said. “If they don’t get it now, they’ll get it by the time they are seniors that this is a big deal.”
The Eagles — who beat the Little Hoyas 3-1 on Thursday in pool play — didn’t need much offense to take the title thanks to a stellar effort in goal from sophomore Nick Platais. The netminder stopped 24 of 25 shots in the final and held the Little Hoyas (6-3) scoreless over the game’s final 47 minutes 40 seconds.
Platais was named the tournament’s most valuable player after saving nearly 94 percent of the shots he faced. He played in four of the team’s five wins in the three-day event and finished with a 1.50 goals against average.
“Nick’s been working real hard for a really long time,” said junior Michael Logan, who led the Eagles (8-5) with two goals. “His dedication to the game is second-to-none. There’s no doubt in my mind he was the best player in this tournament.”
Georgetown Prep senior A.J. Taylor started the scoring less than three minutes into the game, blasting a shot past Platais after taking a cross-ice pass from sophomore Lazar Zamurovic, but it was all Gonzaga after that.
Logan tied the score 12 minutes in when he re-directed a shot by sophomore Connor Van Hoose into the net, and junior Jack Slater gave the Eagles the lead five minutes later. Logan added an insurance goal when he stuffed in a rebound on the power play with six seconds left in the first half.
Sophomore defenseman Joey Downey added a late goal on a long-range blast from near the blue line to go along with a pair of first-half assists.
Gonzaga — which beat upstart Huntingtown, 7-2, earlier in the day to earn a spot in the final — has now won seven straight games to pick up some newfound confidence in addition to another Purple Puck banner for its collection.
“Things weren’t clicking,” Platais said, “but I don’t know, this tournament has kind of cemented things.”