By Peter Schwartz
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New York Lizards star Greg Gurenlian began thinking about retiring last year when he was battling through the 2016 season with a broken foot.
He was having a conversation with good friend Paul Carcataterra when the former Syracuse star and current lacrosse analyst pointed out to Gurenlian that he had nothing left to prove in Major League Lacrosse and would be better off preparing himself for next year’s World Games and winning a gold medal with Team USA.
Over 11 MLL seasons, including seven with the Lizards, “The Beast” has pretty much done it all with every faceoff record, an MVP and an MLL championship with the Lizards in 2015.
“I’ve been in the league for over a decade now, and I’ve fought through injuries,” Gurenlian told WFAN.com.
On Thursday, Gurenlian announced his retirement from Major League Lacrosse effective at the end of the 2017 season. He’s not retiring from lacrosse completely, but just the MLL as he focuses on family and his full-time job as a coach and co-founder of The Faceoff Academy.
“I think it’s time now for me to step aside and let that new generation come in and focus solely on coaching my athletes,” said Gurenlian, who set an MLL record by winning 73.1 percent of faceoffs during his 2015 MVP season.
Stepping away from MLL will also give Gurenlian, who turns 33 next month, more time to spend with his wife, Jenny, and 6-week-old son, Jackson. When he held his little boy for the first time, he knew it was time to hang up his Lizards jersey after one more season so that he could be the best possible dad and husband.
“That kind of sealed the deal for me,” said Gurenlian, who resides in Westchester County. “My wife has been by my side, and she let me do my thing. I think it’s her turn now to get some time. I want to be around as a father and as a husband, and I want to dedicate my time to that now.”
When it’s all said and done, Gurenlian will have given his heart and soul for 12 MLL seasons. And he has meant so much to the Lizards both on and off the field. Whether it was a critical faceoff win or sitting on a folding chair signing autographs after the game, Gurenlian revolutionized his position and was a fan favorite.
“Some of my closest friends and colleagues are Hank Aaron, Richard Petty and Jim Brown,” said Lizards owner Andrew Murstein. “Greg dominated his position in a way that all three dominated their respective sports. He also has been a great leader on and off the field. There is no question that the Lizards would not have been a playoff contender all these years and certainly not MLL champion in 2015 without Greg.”
The funny thing is that had Gurenlian listened to many people around him when he was younger, he would never have embarked on a great career in lacrosse. He picked up a lacrosse stick for the first time when he was in high school, but there were those who suggested that he was making a mistake.
“I was told by many people that I was wasting my time and that it was just too late,” said Gurenlian.
An MLL-record 1,797 faceoff wins later, Gurenlian has proven those people wrong.
In fact, he was so obsessed with becoming a great faceoff specialist and put so much pressure on himself that he really changed how teams view the position. It was only a few years ago when not every team had one, but things are very different now.
“Every team has at least two guys on the team that are designated as faceoff guys,” said Gurenlian, who began his MLL career in 2006 when he was drafted by the Rochester Rattlers.
After stops in San Francisco and Chicago, he arrived on Long Island in 2010, and it was the best thing that ever happened to him. The Lizards have been to the playoffs five times in Gurenlian’s seven seasons, including two trips to the championship game and a 15-12 win over Rochester to capture the 2015 title.
“I feel like I’ve been playing on Long Island my whole career,” Gurenlian said. “I feel at home there. It’s been an incredible run. I love the fans of Long Island.”
Gurenlian is open to staying involved with the Lizards in some capacity after this season, and the team would love to have him stick around. He’s meant so much to the franchise that even just coming to the games with his family and letting the Lizards players pick his brain would be a great thing.
And given his career accomplishments, Gurenlian could get the highest honor that a team can bestow on a player, and that would be retiring his No. 32.
“A few numbers have been retired,” Murstein said. “But what Greg has done for the organization certainly puts him up there for that honor.”
However, Gurenlian’s first order of business is preparing for the 2017 season and helping the Lizards compete for their second championship in three years. There are always high expectations when you have a roster full of stars like Gurenlian, Paul Rabil, Rob Pannell and the newly acquired Joe Walters.
“When you are the Lizards, you’re always expected to make the playoffs and win a championship,” Gurenlian said. “I think if we can get the defense settled in, we’re going to have another good year. I just have to do my job, and now that I’m healthy, we should be just fine.”
Gurenlian has been more than just fine during his brilliant career. It would be appropriate for him to finish it off in style and ride off into the Long Island sunset with another championship.
Don’t forget to follow Pete on Twitter at @pschwartzcbsfan. You can also follow @GregBeast32 and @LizardsLacrosse.