International Men

July 16, 2014

Eck, Gurenlian a Two-Headed, Four-Handed Faceoff Monster

by Corey McLaughlin | | Twitter | McLaughlin Archive | World Lacrosse 2014

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Team USA's two-headed and four-handed faceoff monster of Chris Eck and Greg Gurenlian has ripped through the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championship tournament, winning a combined 80 percent of the draws they have taken.

It's gotten to the point where the U.S. offense has gotten tired at times, with the ball its possession so much. Defenders Mitch Belisle and Kyle Hartzell were rotated in on offense against England to spell some tired legs. Hard to lose that way.

Canada's Geoff Snider presented the toughest challenge on the opening night of the games, but was still less than 50 percent, winning nine of 21 draws against Eck and Gurenlian. Since then, the duo has won 85 percent against foes from Australia, England, Japan and the Iroquois. The U.S. faces Australia, a 9-8 winner over Israel, in the semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

"They've really embraced the role of having a two-headed monster at the faceoff X," said Team USA assistant coach Kevin Cassese, the team's designated faceoff coach. "I didn't know exactly how it would play out. But to this point though pool play, the overall decision by the coaching staff to keep two on the 23-man roster has proven to be an advantageous one. The percentages are phenomenal."

Eck and Gurenlian are rivals in Major League Lacrosse with the Boston Cannons and New York Lizards, respectively, usually one and two over the last few seasons in that faceoff hierarchy. Eck was originally the lone draw man picked for Denver when the team cut down to 30 players, but about a month ago the U.S. staff re-added Gurenlian, who had withdrawn from the tryout process, citing a torn labrum, ahead of Champion Challenge in January.

Chris Eck has won 72.7 percent of his faceoffs and Greg Gurenlian 84.6. (Scott McCall)

Gurenlian said upon his return he felt the pair had the chance to be the best 1-2 combination in lacrosse history, a sentiment agreed upon by Eck. The pair is rooming together in Team USA's dorms at the University of Denver. There's been a lot of faceoff talk going on in there and breaking down tape. Eck is a more traditional pinch-and-pop faceoff taker while Gurenlian is a grinder.

"I don't see it as a competition between us," Eck said. "We offer two different things. Sometimes one of us is able to push a little more offense than the other. Sometimes it's just about getting the ball. We each had our moments when we shine. We each have our moments when we've done something stupid."

Eck has taken the first faceoff in three games and Gurenlian twice, rotating for each of the five games, so he is line to start Thursday's semifinal tilt. Cassese said typically the plan has been to give the start the first three to six faceoffs of the game and then give each sets of three for the remainder of the game. The balance has worked thus far.

"But we've talked about it," said Cassese, the Lehigh head coach, "if someone gets hot, the ego for either one of them is not in play. They are fully bought into the notion of winning each game, and obviously they are trying to win a gold medal. If someone were to get hot, we'd go to the hot hand."

Gurenlian removed himself from the tryout process with the injury, which kept him in pain through the start of the MLL season with the New York Lizards. But head coach Richie Meade asked him back and Gurenlian accepted. Since then, during Team USA's training camp ahead of the MLL All-Star Game on June 26, Gurenlian received a cortisone shot in the bad shoulder, and has been pain-free since.

He's won 44 of 52 faceoffs (84.6 percent), the second highest percentage in the tournament, and Eck had won 48 of 66 (72.7). Former Rutgers faceoff man Chris Mattes leads the games statistically with a 92.3 number, but his Germany squad is not in contention for a medal.

"When I got here I could barely lift my elbow above my shoulder and now I feel like I'm not injured at all," Gurenlian said. "I feel like I'm back to my normal self."

Which is why the faceoff split has been about 50-50, instead of 60-40 or 70-30 in favor of Gurenlian as had been the initial thought at the start. With even opportunities for each team, Cassese has presented both their individual stats side-by-side after each game, hoping to perhaps foster some competitiveness among them.

Faceoffs won and lost clean, by violation, by the wings; turnovers caused, goals, assists; and numbers broken down by half are part of the post-game report. Not that they really need that.

"Chris and I are naturally competitive," Gurenlian said. "We're A and B every year in the MLL. It's pretty awesome when you can take your closest rival and say you're on the same team. We're helping each other out. The whole MLL rivalry has taken a back-seat. We're teammates now. All we care about is winning a gold medal. It's great. It's like having an extra coach. Every time I come off the field, I tell him what I see, he tells me what he saw and we get stronger each game."

It appears four hands are better than two.

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