Before he transformed himself into the most prolific goal-scoring midfielder in the history of Loyola Maryland men’s lacrosse, Jay Drapeau had another athletic passion: ice hockey.
A resident of Westford, Mass., and a lifelong Boston Bruins fan, Drapeau remembers learning how to skate as a small child on an outdoor rink behind his parents’ home. He had 112 career points for the Westford Academy’s varsity ice hockey team, and the only thing that prevented him from taking to the ice was his prowess on grass, where he was recruited by, among others, Denver, Hofstra and Massachusetts.
“If I could have played hockey in college, I probably would have chosen that if I could have gone to a good D-I school,” Drapeau said. “But I didn’t get as many looks in hockey as I did in lacrosse. So I thought lacrosse was a better fit.”
Hockey’s loss has been the Greyhounds’ gain. As a senior, Drapeau has scored 41 goals this spring, passing Brian Kroneberger’s previous school record for a midfielder in a single season (38 in 1990). He joins Maryland senior Connor Kelly, Bucknell senior Sean O’Brien and Sacred Heart junior Max Tuttle as the only Division I midfielders to top 40 goals in 2018.
Over his first three seasons, Drapeau had 36 goals and nine assists. In 16 games so far this season, he has 41 goals and nine assists, and could add to those totals when No. 6 seed Loyola (13-3) meets No. 3 seed Yale (14-3) in an NCAA tournament quarterfinal at Hofstra’s James M. Shuart Stadium in Hempstead, N.Y., on Saturday at noon.
“I think it’s caught us even a little off-guard,” Greyhounds coach Charley Toomey said when asked about Drapeau’s outburst. “But when you watch him practice, it doesn’t surprise you. What I didn’t get a good feel for when we were recruiting him was how he was going to go about his business every day in practice. He just practices so hard and loves the game, and it’s contagious for all.”
After racking up 302 goals and 143 assists in high school, Drapeau arrived at Loyola facing a logjam at midfield. The adjustment took some time to accept.
“Going from big man on campus to the low man on the totem pole was a little different, but it was a good experience,” Drapeau said. “It was humbling, and I learned a lot from that transition.”
Drapeau said former teammates such as Nikko Pontrello, Tyler Albrecht and Brian Sherlock taught him, and his patience was rewarded last season when he joined Sherlock and Romar Dennis as the starting midfielders. In his first seven starts, he had six goals and two assists. A three-goal performance against Georgetown kicked off a 14-goal, four-assist finish that included 10 goals and two assists over four games.
“That was my first hat trick, and I think after that, once I got over that hump, I was able to sustain my points and my style of play,” Drapeau said, referring to the game against the Hoyas.
At 5 feet 9 and 170 pounds, Drapeau doesn’t look like the prototypical midfielder who can bowl over opponents and bull-rush the cage. ESPN analyst Mark Dixon said Drapeau is the latest in a new crop of midfielders.
“It’s his versatility, and that’s what you’re seeing out of a lot of smaller, quicker, athletic midfielders – their ability to dodge from all points on the field,” the former Johns Hopkins midfielder said. “He moves incredibly well off-ball. It’s one thing to benefit from playing with a player like [junior attackman] Pat Spencer, but it’s another thing to be able to produce and to do things with what you’ve got.”
Drapeau smiled when asked if he is defying stereotypes about size in lacrosse.
“I think it’s not so important to change, to become something that you’re not besides trying to make yourself the best you can be,” he said. “I’m not trying to pack on a bunch of pounds. I’d rather stay fast and quick than back someone in. My game is different from that. I’m better at running around someone than hitting someone and squaring up.”
Spencer, a Tewaaraton Award finalist for the second year in a row, said he has enjoyed playing with Drapeau for the past three seasons.
“I think we’re on the same page in terms of spacing and I kind of know where he wants to be, and I think he knows how I like to play, too,” said Spencer, a Davidsonville resident and Boys’ Latin graduate. “He just knows the right spots and is smart enough to put himself in a position to find those spots.”
Toomey credited Drapeau’s background in ice hockey for developing him into a dangerous shooter.
“I think he gets a lot of velocity on his shot because he did play ice hockey,” Toomey said. “With his wrists, he’s able to snap that shot off, and similar to [former attackman] Cooper MacDonnell, we were going through a phase of wanting to get a few more hockey guys because of their toughness around the crease. And not is it only Jay’s shot that is so lethal, but very rarely does he miss a rebound or a loose ball around the crease. He’s willing to sell his body into small spots to make a big play for Loyola.”
Drapeau said he takes pride in helping the program capture three straight Patriot League championships and advance to the national semifinals in 2016. The only thing missing is an NCAA title.
“That’s the goal,” Drapeau said. “Anything short will be a disappointment. But there’s a long way there. We’re confident. It’ll be a battle to get there. We have to go through three more games against three of the best opponents in the country, and we all know that, and I think we’re ready for that.”