Gabriel Procyk evolves his play style to fit UMass’ offensive needs

Senior leads Minutemen in scoring this season

Eva+Trainer%2F+Daily+Collegian

Eva Trainer/ Daily Collegian

By Colin McCarthy, Assistant Sports Editor

Gabriel Procyk is the quarterback of the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team’s offense this season. He dictates the pace of play, putting his hands up in the air when he wants to slow down and spinning the ball around fast when he sees an opportunity for UMass (5-3) to strike.

Procyk finds ways to score, and that didn’t change during Saturday’s game against Brown. But the way he scores goals and commands the Minutemen offense has been evolving since the day he stepped foot on campus as a freshman, and his growth is on display this year more than any other.

“That type of evolution happens because you’re expecting more out of him,” head coach Greg Cannella said. “When we was a freshman in 2019 he had a lot of people around him it was ‘just let the ball come to you, Gabe, you’re going to get the ball on your stick and you’re going to get opportunities … now he knows he’s in more of a leadership role.”

In UMass’ second-lowest scoring game of the season against a tight No. 17 Bears (5-3, 0-1 Ivy League) defense, Procyk still found a way to break through on the scoreboard three separate times, all in different ways.

He scored once in quick transition, playing a two-man game with Logan Liljeberg leading to an easy goal for Procyk right on the crease. Another tally came on the man-up, where Procyk was opportunistic on a somewhat broken play, taking advantage of the chaos in front of the net to scoop the ball off the turf and score. And in the third quarter the attacker completed his hat trick with an unassisted goal in settled offense, using a screen and creating enough space for himself to get a clean shot off to beat Brown goaltender Connor Theriault.

“Another good performance [for Procyk], scored the ball well, had some opportunities, but did other things too,” Cannella said. “He handled the ball for us, he rode for us. [He’s] been pretty steady, pretty consistent, we want that to continue.”

When Procyk first put on a Minuteman uniform, he rattled off 36 goals in 15 games in his rookie season. The only thing Procyk didn’t have going for him was consistent multi-dimensional scoring. Most of his goals were earned in the same way: finding room on the crease without the ball, collecting a pass in tight and quickly firing it into the back of the net.

That play style continued for three seasons and it was exactly what UMass needed. The Minutemen had elite dodging midfielders in Jeff Trainor and Billy Philpott and capable all-around offensive threats with Kevin Tobin and Chris Connolly. Procyk provided a dangerous interior threat, the only offensive area UMass didn’t have covered without him. He played that role to perfection.

But this season, Procyk’s role needed to change. More than once.

Coming into the year, Cannella wanted to give opponents a different look than they were used to. After the previous season generated inconsistent offensive results, the longtime Minutemen coach looked for a more balanced scoring attack that could come from any direction. To help achieve that goal, he moved Procyk up to midfield, bringing him out of the box and attacking the net from up high rather than down low at attack where he was stationed for three years.

That adjustment worked; it gave Procyk a different look at the defense and the senior capitalized on that early on. He seemed to embrace that role, but things changed two games into the season when Connolly got hurt.

Suddenly Procyk needed to be back on attack, but he couldn’t just stay as an off-ball player finding openings on the crease like he did before. He needed to help fill the void Connolly left in the unit, and that meant driving to the crease more and being relied on as the primary shot creator for both him and his teammates. It also meant directing traffic and leading the offense the way Connolly did as a captain before his injury.

“[Procyk] does his talking on the field, by example,” Cannella said of Procyk’s leadership. “There’s a certain intensity about him on the field that gets people going, and I think he understands that now … he knows that we need him in that role and he’s done a fine job.”

Procyk knew what UMass needed from him, and he provided it. He has 18 goals and five assists this season and is on pace for his highest scoring output since his standout freshman season. He could have settled for those 36 first-year goals and continued playing that exact same role for all four years of college. Instead, he evolved as a player, and the Minutemen offense is benefiting as a whole because of it.

Colin McCarthy can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @colinmccarth_DC.