Saturday, March 12, 2005

Birbraer Named Gulls' Player Of The Month

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Gulls have announced that Max Birbraer has been named the Kristy’s MVP/Stewart Benjamin Jewelry Player of the Month for February. Birbraer will be presented the award in a pre-game ceremony before Saturday’s game against the Fresno Falcons.
Birbraer led the team in February with 13 points and tied Guillaume Fournier and Sean O’Connor for the club lead with five goals. During San Diego’s 14 games in the month, Birbraer notched a point in nine contests. He also had three multi-point games, including a three-assist night Wednesday, Feb.23 in Victoria.
The 6-foot-2-inch, 198-pound native of Kamenogorski, Kazakhstan is tied overall on the Gulls with a career-high 41 points (15g, 26a). Birbraer is third on the team with 15 goals and second with 26 assists. He’s also second on the club with three game-winning goals.
Birbraer, 23, spent the majority of last season with the Laredo Bucks of the Central Hockey League, posting a previous career high of 30 points (16g, 14a) in 44 games. He also notched five points (3g, 2a) during the Bucks’ run to the 2003-04 CHL title. During his five-year professional career, which includes four years in the American Hockey League, Birbraer has recorded 111 points (50g and 61a) in 259 games.
He was a third-round pick of the New Jersey Devils in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft and was signed as a free agent by the Florida Panthers in 2003. He is the first Israeli to ever be drafted by an NHL team.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Gulls get standout effort from goalie to beat Idaho

By: SANDY BURGIN - For the North County Times

SAN DIEGO ---- The Gulls, bolstered by a 47-save effort from goaltender Eddy Ferhi, snapped the Idaho Steelheads' seven-game winning streak with a 3-2 ECHL victory Sunday before 4,857 fans at the Sports Arena.

With the victory, the Gulls (28-20-6) moved to within five points of fourth-place Fresno, which lost to Alaska in a shootout.

"Yeah, you can say we got outplayed here and there," said Gulls coach Martin St. Amour. "But sometimes the goalie has to win the game for you, and he did it tonight!"

The Gulls were outshot 49-16 and had just six shots on net in the final two periods.

Fortunately for the Gulls, Sean O'Connor and Nikita Korovkin beat Idaho goalie Frank Doyle with a pair of goals a little more than a minute apart in the first period, and Max Birbraer added the eventual game-winner with just 2 minutes, 47 seconds remaining in the second period.

Korovkin's goal, his seventh on the season, came on a power play 7:36 into the game with former Gull Billy Tibbetts in the penalty box for interference. Just 1:04 later, O'Connor recorded his 17th goal of the season off assists from Brian Gornick and Jonathan Shockey.

Doyle had come into the game with five straight victories, giving up an average of 1.60 goals in that span.

But Ferhi was even better, especially in the second period when the Steelheads, the defending Kelly Cup champions, outshot the Gulls 22-3.

It was during that middle period that Birbraer notched the game's key goal, scoring on a breakaway at 17:13. It was only the Gulls' second shot of the period.

"That goal was huge," said Ferhi, "especially since I didn't see it. There was something going on in our end and all of a sudden I look down and there's Max with a breakaway against a very good goalie and he makes a heck of a move.

"A two-goal lead is the worst lead in hockey, they say. So a three-goal lead makes a world of difference."

Sunday, February 27, 2005

"Gulls A Glutton for Salmon"

Gulls 4 - Salmon 1
by Deborah Brancheau
Toe fungus might have been easier to swallow than the pathetic loss the Gulls endured Tuesday night as they were beaten by the worst team in the ECHL. A team that hadn't even reached double-digits in the win column until then. A team that had only won 25 of its last 28 games. Whatever the case, the Gulls were in no mood to be force fed another rancid defeat as they turned the tables on the Victoria Salmon Kings handing them a 4-1 loss in front of 2,140 at the Bear Mountain Arena Wednesday night.
Though they may not have physically dominated the game, the scoreboard recorded a solid win, something the Gulls were in dire need of if they planned to leapfrog the Fresno Falcons for the coveted fourth-place standing in the Western Division and a playoff berth. Having lost four of their last five games, the Gulls had slipped further behind the Falcons who have won seven of their last 10, two of which were victories over San Diego. The win could possibly be the motivation the Gulls need to prepare for the crucial next five games.
Although the Gulls were outshot in the first period 14-11, they were able to capture the lead late in the frame with Ian Forbes' second goal of the season. Birbraer fed the puck to Forbes on the left wing. The acting captain then took advantage of an excellent screen by Sean O'Connor and rifled a shot past netminder Dan Blackburn for the 1-0 lead at 15:36.
Gulls goaltender Mathieu Chouinard was on top of his game in the first as he was credited with stopping all 14 shots including a breakaway attempt by Scott Turner. Sylvain Deschatelets even played savior with the puck by reaching in behind Chouinard to save a shot from crossing the goal line.
The stellar defensive performance held up in the second period as the Gulls faced an early Salmon Kings' power play. The offense wasn't far behind as Chris Lynch setup Nick Ganga for the shorthanded goal at 2:28. Chris Lynch pried the puck loose in the corner and dished it to Ganga, wide-open in the slot, who then slipped one between the pipes to give the Gulls a sound 2-0 lead.
San Diego continued its assault late in the second off a beautiful play initiated by Birbraer's excellent stick handling. Birbraer, in on the right wing, whipped through the Kings' defense all the way into the right wing corner before backhanding a pass to Sean O'Connor who finished off the play with his 16th goal of the season to give the Gulls a 3-0 lead at the 16:42 mark.
Victoria did have some fireworks left from Tuesday night's game and took a nibble out of the Gulls lead midway into the third period with Chris Corrinett's 14th goal of the season. Mike Josephson carried the puck out of the right wing corner where the puck rolled off his stick to Corrinett centered in front of the net. Corrinett then slipped it underneath Chouinard for the score at 9:04.
The Gulls, however, finished off the fish just 40 seconds later with Birbraer's third assist of the game. After Guillaume Fournier nudged the puck loose from Hegberg, he centered it to Birbraer. Birbraer then found a wide-open Deschatelets who one-timed the puck past Blackburn for the game-clinching 4-1 lead.
With the win, the Gulls, now 27-19-6, sit four points behind the fourth-place Fresno Falcons and six behind the third-place Bakersfield Condors. Only 20 games remain in the regular season giving new meaning to the term crunch time. While San Diego may have been able to split the two-game series with Victoria, it should never have come to that. They should have walked away from this series with four points instead of two. As a result, they have placed a tremendous amount of pressure on their shoulders to pull this season out of the trash.
Of the 20 remaining games, 14 are matchups within the Western Division and nine of those 14 are matchups with the three other teams vying for a playoff berth. Broken down, the Gulls have two more games with both the Condors and Falcons, all four of which will be played within the next week and a half, and five more games with the sixth-place Idaho Steelheads. That's not to say that the remaining six games are unimportant. Quite the contrary, the Gulls simply cannot let up. Right now there are too many teams ready to take that fourth-place playoff spot.


San Diego is 21-2-1 when scoring four-plus goals in a game, but just 6-17-5 when scoring three or less
The Gulls are 6-8-2 in their last 16 games and have been outscored 44-36 in their last 15 games
They are 10-14-3 on the road and 17-5-3 at home
Grady Moore was placed on the injured list after sustaining a concussion Saturday against Bakersfield
He joins Mike Garrow (concussion), Evgueni Nourislamov (broken thumb) and Wes Rypien (knee sprain)
Andrew Canzanello remains with the American Hockey League's Cincinnati Mighty Ducks

Monday, February 21, 2005

Gulls find offense, romp before 10,874

By Glae Thien
February 20, 2005
Gulls 7 Condors 3
Gulls coach Martin St. Amour sat in his office befuddled over his club's recent lack of offense ahead of last night's game against the Bakersfield Condors.

"We're working hard, but we're not scoring goals," St. Amour said. "I don't have an answer for it. If I did, I'd tell you."

As it turned out, the Gulls quickly found a solution, striking for three unanswered goals in the first period. They proceeded to match their season high in scoring in a 7-3 victory, which ended a three-game winless streak before 10,874 at the Sports Arena.

Max Birbraer and Guillaume Fournier had a goal and an assist in the opening period to help lead the Gulls, who bounced back from a 1-0 setback at Fresno the previous night.

When Birbraer opened the scoring at 6:57 into the game, he ended a span of 103:03 without a goal for the Gulls. Just 1:48 later, on the game's next shot, Fournier added a power-play score.

"On the bus ride back (from Fresno), we were so upset," Birbraer said. "We were so anxious to play again. As soon as the puck dropped, we had a lot of energy and we just maintained it."

In each case, the shooter ended up isolated against Condors goalie Yutaka Fukufuji. In the first period alone, the Gulls matched their scoring for the previous three games combined.

The Gulls (26-18-6) moved within four points of idle Fresno (28-17-4) for fourth place and the final playoff spot in the ECHL's West Division.

Gulls goaltender Mathieu Chouinard made 32 saves in his only start of the week, while Fukufuji had 26.

To enter the night, Fukufuji hadn't suffered a regulation loss in his previous 12 starts (9-0-3). Against the Gulls, he was 3-0-1 on the season with only seven goals allowed overall.

The Condors (29-14-8) ended their Gulls' early run at 2:30 into the second period, when Mike Hofstrand converted on a power play..

Darren Clark increased the Gulls to 4-1 at 8:07 into the second period, when he scored his first goal in 15 games, dating to Jan. 14. On the season, he has eight goals.

Bakersfield closed within 4-3 at 7:08 into the third period. But the Gulls answered just 40 seconds later with a goal by Chris Lynch.

Sylvain Deschatelets also fueled the Gulls' offense with four assists.

Gulls center Curtis Brown was sidelined for the second game in a row with a bruised knee, which also puts his availability in question for the team's next game on Tuesday at Victoria.

The Gulls improved to 3-2-2 in the season series with the Condors.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Gulls fall again on road in Ohio

TOLEDO, Ohio – The Gulls dropped their second straight ECHL game to the Toledo Storm last night in front of 2,728 at the Toledo Sports Arena.
The final score was 4-2.
Nick Parillo led the way for Toledo with two goals and an assist. His second goal at 5:16 in the third period proved to be the crushing blow as it came short-handed and ended up as the winning score.
Mike Garrow and Sean O'Connor scored the Gulls' two goals in the game. Garrow's goal came in the second period and O'Connor connected in the third period on a power play.
Max Birbraer had two assists for San Diego.
The Gulls (22-15-4) have now lost three of four on their seven-game road trip and have lost four of their past five overall. They are in fourth place in the West Division, tied with Fresno.
The Gulls continue their road trip tomorrow against the Wheeling Nailers. San Diego will play the Johnstown Chiefs on Saturday before concluding the trek Sunday in Wheeling.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Globetrotting prospect gets chance with Gulls

By Glae Thien
Gulls winger Max Birbraer lived in three diverse countries and endured some tumultuous cultural conditions before launching his pro hockey career as the first Israeli player selected in the NHL entry draft.

Birbraer learned the game in his native Kazakhstan in an atmosphere unfriendly to Jews in the post-Soviet Union era. His family later moved to Israel, but in an unusual personal circumstance he was jailed in his adopted homeland. Eventually, he developed as a player in Canadian junior hockey while far removed from his family.

Through it all, Birbraer gained a world of experience in the world itself, and his playing skills progressed to the point that the New Jersey Devils selected him in the third round of the 2000 draft.

Birbraer prefers these days simply to focus on the world of hockey while leading the Gulls with 25 points approaching the midpoint of his first season with the club.

"Right now, I worry about hockey and enjoying my life," said Birbraer, 24, who began last season in training camp with the NHL's Florida Panthers. "Right now, it feels like I'm in some kind of paradise compared to what I experienced before. It makes you appreciate life and enjoy it."

Birbraer sees this season as pivotal in positioning himself to reclimb the hockey ladder following three-plus seasons in the American Hockey League, one step below the NHL. In the ECHL, he finds himself in a developmental league that has more talent than ever because of the NHL lockout.

However tough times have been, Birbraer takes to the ice in an unruffled manner.

"He's very easygoing," said NHL center Curtis Brown, playing with the Gulls during the lockout. "He doesn't get too riled up about anything. That's good because then you don't get too high or too low."

For much of his youth, Birbraer knew nothing about his religious background. His parents felt it best not to advertise their families' Jewish heritage because of anti-Semitism in Kazakhstan.

Hockey became a youthful refuge without such prejudice. Birbraer took up the game at the encouragement of his grandfather Anatoly, who still lives in Kazakhstan.

"It was my grandfather's idea to take me to a hockey rink, and I'm grateful to him for that," Birbraer said. "He made a great choice for me. I enjoy what I do. Also, he lives for that, me playing hockey. I don't get to talk to him that often, but every time he calls, he asks for some (game) tapes."

When Birbraer was 15, his parents decided to move the family to Tel Aviv in hopes of better opportunities for him and his sister.

Although Israel isn't known for hockey, Birbraer took along his skates, his gloves and a stick just in case. Then, in a quick and fortunate turn of events, he found a place to practice, and an onlooking coach invited him to play for the Israeli national junior team.

In a reminder of a rude world, Birbraer and his Israeli teammates were subjected to anti-Semitic taunts and even spitting while coming on and off the ice against the home team during the 1997 World Junior Championships in Yugoslavia. Fortunately, he says it was an isolated incident.

At the same tourney, Birbraer caught the attention of Paul Rosen, a Canadian coaching in Israel. Rosen later offered to take Birbraer to Canada to play and be his legal guardian.

Birbraer accepted the invitation with the support of his parents, Alex and Svetlana.

"Not a lot of parents will send a 16-year-old kid across the world with no guarantees," Birbraer said. "They knew I had to take a chance, and they made the right choice."

The bond between Birbraer and Rosen became one of kinship. In recognition, they each received matching tattoos saying "brothers forever" in Hebrew.

For two seasons, Birbraer played Tier II junior hockey in Shelburne, Ontario. After that, his visa came due for renewal, and a return to Israel was required.

The occasion was also meant to be a family reunion. Before he could see his relatives at the Tel Aviv airport, however, Birbraer was taken to jail in connection with the required military service for 18-year-old Israeli citizens.

Birbraer remained jailed while he balked at serving the minimum three-year commitment because it would derail his hockey aspirations taking root in Canada.

"Then I realized after a month that I would rather be in the army than in jail," Birbraer said. "I went into the army for three months, and finally they discharged me because I was really depressed and couldn't function normally. Then I took the first plane back to Canada."

In turn, Birbraer said he brought even more enthusiasm to the upcoming hockey season, his last in the junior ranks. With Tier II Newmarket, he recorded 50 goals and 32 assists in 47 games.

Then came his selection by New Jersey, then the reigning Stanley Cup champion, as the 67th pick overall in the 2000 draft. Though he initially didn't realize it, Birbraer was informed by media that he was the first Israeli player ever chosen.

"I'm definitely proud to be that," Birbraer said. "But in the hockey world, when it comes down to playing a game, that's not significant. For the Israeli people who follow it, it gives them something to cheer about. That's great. Why not? But I was more happy to be drafted by the NHL in general."

Birbraer played for three seasons with the Albany River Rats of the AHL, the Devils' top affiliate. Following the second season, his family moved to Toronto and away from increasing terrorism danger in Israel, much to his relief.

When the Devils allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent, Birbraer got his chance in the Panthers training camp. He subsequently played with their AHL affiliate in San Antonio and then Laredo of the Central Hockey League last season.

Over the previous two seasons, Birbraer dealt with a hernia injury and later a monthlong bout with pneumonia.

"He's very talented," said Brown, who plays on the same line with Birbraer and Sean O'Connor. "He has all the tools that a hockey player would want to have. He skates real well and he can shoot. He's physical, so he can play any type of game that presents itself. Not many guys can say that."

Gulls coach Martin St. Amour received a positive recommendation from renowned New Jersey General Manager Lou Lamoriello before signing Birbraer this season. The most common critique of Birbraer has been that he needs to be more consistent.

"So I was willing to give him a chance," St. Amour said. "So far I'm not disappointed. Lou said he would score 25 goals (per season) definitely at this level. If Max wants another chance at the NHL, he has to start playing here."

Birbraer has eight goals and 17 assists in 31 games for the Gulls.

"I'm playing here with great players. There is not much more to ask for, especially in a lockout year," Birbraer said. "Everybody has something to improve. I have a lot of things to work on. Martin has been great, giving me advice. He has put me in situations for confidence."

Should he advance to the NHL, Birbraer would gladly add his name to the list of the few Jews who have played at the top level of the pro game. Most notably perhaps is defenseman Mathieu Schneider, who won a Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens and played for the Los Angeles Kings and Detroit Red Wings.

"To be mentioned in the same line with such guys is a privilege," Birbraer said.

And so, too, has been the chance for Max Birbraer to proceed in that quest.