Monday, February 21, 2005

Gulls find offense, romp before 10,874

By Glae Thien
SPECIAL TO THE UNION-TRIBUNE
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.