Nick Platais earned tournament most valuable player honors after leading Gonzaga to the Purple Puck title last winter. (John McDonnell/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Top-ranked Gonzaga (8-1) returns from a three-week break this weeked to play host and defend its title in the 20th annual National Capital Hockey Tournament.

The Eagles, who have been idle since a Dec. 7 victory over Baltimore’s Mount St. Joseph, open the tournament Friday night at Fort Dupont Ice Arena against Canisius (N.Y.). Gonzaga head coach Nate Jackson said that the caliber of teams in this year’s tournament means “it’s not a slam dunk we’re going to be in the championship game.”

“These teams are going to be good. These are not going to be typical D.C. high school cakewalks,” Jackson said. “These kids are going to be some of the best kids you’re going to play against maybe in your life. This is something special to be a part of.”

Gonzaga will face 2010 Purple Puck winner Loyola Academy from Chicago and Cleveland’s St. Ignatius on Saturday and Philadelphia’s St. Joseph’s Prep on Sunday, but won’t face either of the tournament’s other local participants, Georgetown Prep (1-3) and Huntingtown (4-2), in pool play. The Little Hoyas and Hurricanes face off Sunday at 2 p.m.

Gonzaga returns most of its key players from last year’s Purple Puck champion team, including 2011 tournament most valuable player Nick Platais in goal and senior forward Jack Slater, the top scorer for the Eagles this season.

Chip Vernon’s Huntingtown Hurricanes are once again the lone Maryland public school competing in the prep division. (John McDonnell/THE WASHINGTON POST)

“If I ever have a team that’s going to compete with some of the best high school teams in the country, I think it’s this year,” Jackson said.

2012 National Capital Hockey Tournament

Fri., Dec. 28

Gonzaga vs. Canisius (NY), 5:30 p.m.

Sat., Dec. 29

St. Ignatius (Ohio) vs. Huntingtown, 9 a.m.

St. Joseph’s Prep (Pa.) vs. Georgetown Prep, 11 a.m.

Loyola Academy (Ill.) vs. Gonzaga, 1 p.m.

Canisius vs. Georgetown Prep, 3 p.m.

St. Ignatius vs. Gonzaga, 5 p.m.

Loyola Academy vs. Huntingtown, 7 p.m.

Sun., Dec. 30

St. Joseph’s Prep vs. Canisius, 10 a.m.

St. Ignatius vs. Loyola Academy, 12 p.m.

Huntingtown vs. Georgetown Prep, 2 p.m.

Gonzaga vs. St. Joseph’s Prep, 4 p.m.

Mon., Dec. 31

Semifinals, 9/11 a.m.

Final, 3 p.m.