Dave Torres went on at length about the contributions Josh Dagle and Elliott Hungerford have provided his Saratoga Springs state final four-bound hockey team.
The veteran coach, though, never mentioned the first-line forwards’ goals and assists. That was a given.
“They’ve been a huge, huge factor,” Torres said of the seniors. “You can’t put it on paper. There’s no number for it, but certainly they’re a big reason we’re going back to the final four.”
As the lone holdovers from Torres’ first team in 2012, Hungerford and Dagle are headed to the Division 1 state semifinals for the fourth time in five years.
“This is my fifth year. This is their fifth year. It’s been kind of cool having them with me,” Torres said. “They’re good guys to have on your team. I knew Josh and Elliott long before I took over, since they were little guys.”
Now they’re big-time all-stars looking to lead the Blue Streaks to a third state championship, with the first two coming in 1999 in 2013. Saratoga’s 2012 and 2015 teams lost in overtime state semifinals.
“They want to get two,” Torres said. “They want to make history here. They’ll make sure we have a chance.”
Saratoga (19-4-1) will take on West Genesee (Section III, 21-2-1) Saturday at noon at the HarborCenter in Buffalo, following the 9:30 a.m. semifinal pitting Mamaroneck (Section I, 22-2) and Pittsford (Section V, 17-5-1). Sunday’s title game is set for noon.
“When we won it the first time we had roles, but not game-changing roles,” Hungerford, the Capital District High School Hockey League’s Player of the Year, said of a 4-1 semifinal win against Niagara Wheatfield and a 5-0 title-game victory over McQuaid three years ago in Utica. “We want to make a big impact. We’re in that position now.”
The 12th-graders are not only excellent on skates and with stick, but also as ambassadors for Saratoga hockey, as mentors for the younger Blue Streaks and as team leaders.
“They’ve been influential in so many areas,” Torres said. “Practice preparation. Game preparation. Game attitude. Physical preparation. Little things they learned from guys before them. Coaches’ expectations. Team expectations. How to conduct ourselves on and off the ice. Character things. They know what it’s all about.”
They take their roles seriously.
“As captains we’re in a position to show the way,” Dagle, a member of the All-Section II Team, said. “I got the torch passed to me, and now I’m trying to pass it on.
“I’ve always tried to speak my mind, but you’ve got to practice what you preach. You’ve got to have that combination to be a good leader.”
Junior forward Jake Fauler is Saratoga’s third team captain. He skates at left wing opposite Dagle, while Hungerford centers the Blue Streaks’ top line.
“All three of them do a good job leading us,” Saratoga sophomore forward Caleb Smith said. “If we mess something up, they’ll correct us. They’ll take the time with you. They want to make us better players.”
Torres said individual growth among his troops has led to team growth. Saratoga is 9-0-1 in its last 10 outings which includes an 8-1 Section II title-game win against Tri-Falls and a 5-0 regional triumph over Monroe-Woodbury.
Dagle scored his 25th goal and, with two assists, boosted his total to 22 in the Monroe-Woodbury win. Hungerford picked up his 21st goal and 28th assist for the state’s No. 4-ranked squad.
“Older guys helped me out with a tip here or there. I try to do the same thing,” Hungerford said. “Every tip I can give them hopefully will make them that much better.”
Dagle, Hungerford and senior defenseman Brendan Coffee have an opportunity this weekend to become the first Section II players to attain a pair of state hockey titles.
“It’s in the back of your head, but the focus is more on the game at hand,” Dagle said. “Next game. We’ve got to win that game before we can do anything else.”
Not looking ahead is an essential piece to any title run, and Dagle and Hungerford have been through so many of them.
“We know what it takes to do it,” Hungerford said. “We can translate that.”