New York faceoff man Greg Gurenlian, the only player at his position to ever win the MLL MVP award, will play in his final regular season game Saturday. The Lizards can still make the playoffs with some help.

The Beast Gets Ready to Say Goodbye

When the New York Lizards take on the Charlotte Hounds in their final game of the 2017 Major League Lacrosse regular season Saturday, it will be faceoff specialist Greg Gurenlian’s last regular season MLL game.

The pinnacle of Gurenlian’s career came in 2015. After years of chasing championships but winning none, and after already becoming the first faceoff specialist to earn MLL MVP honors, Gurenlian led New York to the 2015 MLL title with a win over the Rochester Rattlers.

Gurenlian, the man fans affectionately call “The Beast,” won 25 out of 30 faceoffs, scooped 11 ground balls and scored one goal in the championship game. The goal came in the third quarter and sparked a 7-2 run.

“I didn’t enjoy a second of that championship week. I was nervous,” he said. “I was choking up. When you get to that level so many times but don’t come out on top, you start to think you’re the common denominator. That was the most relief I’ve ever had in my life. It made it easier to know I’d been a champion. I’ll have that ring forever.”

“Nobody wanted to face off. It was the weird thing that ruined your stick. Now people train for it.”

It was a long road for Gurenlian to that point.

Drafted in 2006 by Rochester, the Penn State graduate had mild success, but bounced around the league. After two seasons in Rochester, he played for the San Francisco Dragons for another two years. He sat out the 2008 and 2009 seasons before being selected in the supplemental draft by the Lizards in 2010.

“I was an assistant coach at the time, and he was battling for a position with Pete Vlahakis,” Lizards head coach Joe Spallina said. “We had a full-out scrimmage, telling the guys everyone was battling for a spot. [We figured] let’s put them in a tryout, take our best guys and move forward. We scrimmaged. Greg was dominant that night.”

Gurenlian suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2011, but he came back in 2012 and began a six-year stretch of dominance.

“After the knee injury, it made me reassess everything I was doing,” he said. “I considered myself a strength coach who played lacrosse on the weekends. That’s where the Faceoff Academy system came from. I put what I know from a biomechanical practice into faceoffs. I practiced with it and immediately saw dividends. I became a professional lacrosse player.”

Throughout his on-field success, Gurenlian has left an indelible mark on his position. According to fellow Lizards teammate and Faceoff Academy coach Jerry Ragonese, the MVP award was not just a positive for Gurenlian, but also for the position.

“We worked really hard at legitimizing the faceoff position within the Faceoff Academy,” he said. “It’s now taken seriously. It’s not who’s better at cheating. Our lesson plan, you can see what we teach in how we face off. If you take these teachings and apply them, it works at the pro level. [The MVP] was a nice cherry on top of something we had always known.”

The following season, MLL officials adjusted the faceoff rules, including not allowing players to carry the ball in the back of their sticks. Spallina still believes this was an attempt to stifle the dominance Gurenlian displayed in 2015. (He set records that year for faceoff wins in a season and faceoff winning percentage in a season.)

“I say it’s the Greg Gurenlian Rule,” Spallina said. “It goes to show you how great he is. He was comfortable. He handled it like a pro. He said, ‘I’ve got the stick in my hand every day. I’ll be good that way.’ It speaks volumes.”

For Gurenlian, he feels the most important impact he can have on the position is teaching what he knows to youth players, which is what he does through Faceoff Academy, a training service he co-founded with the Florida Launch’s Chris Mattes.

According to his profile on the FOA website, Gurenlian offers 90-minute sessions weekly on Long Island and in Westchester and a session in Philadelphia and Massachusetts monthly, as well as private, small-group VIP sessions. The FOA team also holds clinics and combines around the country.

“Nobody wanted to face off. It was the weird thing that ruined your stick. Now people train for it,” Gurenlian said. “It opened up things for guys like Trevor Baptiste, and they’re getting talked about for the Tewaaraton. That’s huge.”

Off the field, Gurenlian has made just as much of an impact.

In addition to teaching the young players, his Lizards coaches and teammates credit him for the way he interacts with fans off the field and after games.

“Greg is the last guy signing autographs,” Ragonese said. “If we’re having a team meeting, it’s, ‘Oh God, how many autographs can the guy sign?’ He’s got a huge heart. He shows it on the field, off the field, and it’s why he is who he is. There’s nothing fake about Greg. Who you see on Instagram, in person, on the field, that’s who he is 24-7.”

Lizards goalie Drew Adams grew up in the same town as Gurenlian. Before they ever teamed together on the Lizards, they played together at Springfield High School in Pennsylvania and then again at Penn State. Adams was three years behind Gurenlian.

Adams sees how the kids attending games at Hofstra love Gurenlian, as well as how the locals in Pennsylvania look up to him.

“Myself and Greg and Kyle Sweeney on the Lizards and Austin Kaut with the Launch, we’ve got a good group from Springfield,” Adams said. “I spend a lot of time here, and kids always ask me about Greg. He put Springfield on the map, and they just won the state championship this year. He’s a huge role model for kids here. He didn’t start off as great a player as he is now. He was JV, sniffing to make the team, then found his niche and worked his butt off. When I get to talk to the kids, it’s cool to tell his story to them.”


Gurenlian transformed the faceoff position, launching the Faceoff Academy to train players as athletes rather than specialists — the effect of which is seen today in college players like Tewaaraton finalist Trevor Baptiste of Denver.

It’s not just kids Gurenlian has an impact on, however. He’s touched the lives of the men he shares a locker room with, as well.

“I took over as the head coach, and one of the first moves I made was talking to Greg and Drew Adams,” Spallina said. “New York was in flux, and they were very influential in persuading me to take the job and stay with the team.”

“He understands where it was when I took over and he stayed on to be one of the key guys,” Spallina added. “Guys were defecting and leaving. He was that steady influence then, letting everyone know it would be OK. It was trust from him to me and vice versa. He’s able to get that to resonate through the locker room through times of adversity.”

Ragonese remembered how he initially connected with Gurenlian, their first meeting and what it meant for his own future as a professional lacrosse player.

“We posted on Inside Lacrosse forums on faceoffs,” he said. “We were both using that forum to buy original Blades back in the day. That’s where faceoff guys were getting their heads when Warrior discontinued them. I reached out to him saying I’d be in New York for a few days and wanted to meet up for a workout. He was a personal trainer. I was an hour and a half late, and he was cool about it. He was giving me some ins and outs on the finer points of major league faceoff training.”

“I picked his brain about playing in the MLL at the time,” Ragonese continued. “He said it was a grind, especially for a faceoff guy, but if you have a good year, there’s a chance to try out. It put the idea in my head. It was like, ‘If he thinks I can do it, maybe I’ll give it a go.’”


Gurenlian is retiring from MLL to spend more time with his wife, Jenny, and their newborn son, Jackson (pictured).

With the effect Gurenlian has on his teammates, it’s no surprise they all say they are in denial about the upcoming end to his career, particularly Adams, who has played with him since he was a teenager.

“We go about each game and practice the same way, but you put more consideration into time spent together,” he said. “You try to have a meal together before the game or after the game or sit next to him on the bus. You try to spend time with him before he’s done.”

Ragonese echoed those sentiments.

“[I want to give] a little thank you from me,” he said, “for being a friend, mentor, helping me out, assisting me when I needed help on or off the field.”

Gurenlian will retire with at least one MLL championship — the Lizards can still make the playoffs with a win over Charlotte and a Rochester loss to Ohio — and an MLL MVP award on his resume. He will retire as the league’s record holder for most faceoff wins in a season (280), best faceoff winning percentage in a season (73.1), career ground balls (993), career faceoffs won (2,004), and career faceoffs attempted (3,387).

More importantly, to him, he will retire a new father — his wife, Jenny, gave birth to Jackson earlier this year — as well as a fan and teammate favorite.

“I want them to know I cared,” Gurenlian said. “Yeah, I had the accolades, but that stuff goes away. I want them to say this is how you be a professional athlete. You train hard. Do things the right way. You don’t have to step on people on the way up. And now, I give back to the next generation.”