For BC’s Almeida, triumph follows trauma
There was a time, beginning in the summer of 2006, when Barry Almeida’s young hockey career was in jeopardy.
The Springfield native, who had committed in May of that year to play for Boston College, was at a family bonfire celebrating his high school graduation when a bottle exploded and a piece of glass lodged in one of his eyes.
The injury required multiple surgeries to restore his vision. He missed much of the next season recovering, and then played the 2007-08 campaign with the USHL’s Omaha Lancers before heading to BC.
Nearly six years later, Almeida is having a career year. The 23-year-old left wing heads into tomorrow night’s Beanpot championship game against Boston University with 17 goals - more than twice his output from last year.
He has 9 points in the last six games, seven of them goals.
BC coach Jerry York said Almeida has persevered.
“He certainly has impaired vision in one eye, and I think it took him a while to adjust,’’ said York. “He came up the ladder a little bit freshman, sophomore, and junior years, and now he’s taken four giant steps up the ladder.
“He’s always been a good player for us, solid. This is a completely different level he’s playing on this year and he’s putting up some great numbers.’’
Almeida said the eye injury, though traumatic, made him appreciate his family, his friends, and the sport of hockey.
“[My family] was a huge part of getting me back healthy and keeping me positive,’’ he said. “When you don’t have hockey, it’s tough, especially when you’ve been playing it for so long.
“But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and it made me stronger. It made me more hungry to come back and play. It was a setback for me but I learned a lot. It was something I had to overcome and I’m fortunate enough to still be playing.’’
He said he has adapted to his altered vision and it hasn’t been an issue in quite a while.
“It’s not 100 percent, but it works,’’ he said. “To be honest, it’s been like this for so long, I don’t notice the difference at all.’’
What is different for Almeida is his production. In his first three seasons at BC, he had 7, 8, and 8 goals. He has found a groove playing on a line with center Bill Arnold and right wing Steven Whitney. The trio ended last year together and York reunited them for a series against New Hampshire Jan. 27-28. Since the reunion, the Eagles are 4-0-0.
“They’re two great players and it’s so much fun playing with them,’’ said Almeida. “Bill in the middle is so hard-working, he’ll get you the puck. He kind of does it all. He makes good plays.
“Steve is a crafty, skilled forward but also works hard. I just try to get open and then get the puck to them and they’ll get it back to you. We kind of feed off each other.’’
Early in his college career, Almeida had to fight for playing time. York knew he was going to be a valuable player, it was just a matter of getting used to the system and the college game.
“It’s been kind of a roller coaster for me,’’ said Almeida. “I was kind of like a bottom-six penalty-kill guy and bought into the system.
“There were some unbelievable skilled forwards that we had. I was fortunate enough to play with them.
“I was fortunate enough this year for the coaches to look at me in a different role. I accepted it and I’m just having fun with it and enjoying it and doing everything I can to help the team.’’
That defensive role served him well during the 2009-10 season when the Eagles won the NCAA title.
“My sophomore year, I kind of bought into a defensive role and became a penalty killer,’’ he said. “When you’re on good teams, that’s what you have to do. The team is always first.
“I think that’s a huge part of why we won that year - guys knew their roles and played them exceptionally well.’’
Now that he’s a senior, Almeida said he knows he has more college games behind him than in front of him, and he wants to savor every moment.
“It really has flown by,’’ he said. “It’s crazy to think it’s my senior year and down the stretch of my last season at BC.
“Obviously, you want to go out a winner. I think we have what it takes to go for a run down the stretch and late into the spring.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to play with some great players, have my best friends here, and play for great coaches in a great program. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.’’
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.