Doing It All
BC's Almeida Adds Offense as a Senior
by Joe Meloni/CHN Staff Writer
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. Conversations about Boston College and its hopes for Hockey East and national championships this season start with Chris Kreider. The brawny left wing leads the Eagles with 36 points on 19 goals and 17 assists.
From there, it falls to Bill Arnold and Johnny Gaudreau up front — Tommy Cross and Brian Dumoulin on the blue line. These are the prototypical BC headliners. Brilliant talents with NHL pedigrees capable of gaudy numbers.
During their most recent run of brilliance, a nine-game winning streak that included a 7-0 win over Providence Saturday afternoon at Conte Forum, though, it's been Barry Almeida guiding the Eagles. In his final season with BC, Almeida has scored a career-high 19 goals and added 14 assists to match. Combined, these numbers place him just behind Kreider atop the BC scoring leaders. In BC's last 21 games, Almeida has scored 14 goals and assisted on 10 others.
Saturday afternoon, Almeida picked up that 19th goal, which tied him Kreider for the team lead. Seconds after a penalty expired, a Providence defenseman failed to get back to the blue line after being drawn into the low slot. Bill Arnold, just out of the penalty box, stationed himself at the blue line, as Tommy Cross looked to clear the zone. Arnold hesitated for a second, before sliding the puck to his right, where Almeida skated into the pass and burned the neutral zone, moving in alone on PC goaltender Alex Beaudry. A quick forehand-backhand move parted Beaudry's pads, before Almeida tucked it five-hole.
The goal gave BC a 4-0 lead at 15 minutes, 36 seconds of the first period. Hardly the most important goal of his career, but Almeida's contributions to the Eagles' first period eruption came as they always have. The goal-scoring is something new. A piece of his game that has come together after spending three seasons surrounded by some of college hockey's best.
No skill or element of his game is as important to Almeida and his career at Boston College as his constant commitment to defensive excellence. He'll take a 19-goal season to this point, but, looking back at his previous three years as an Eagle, it was his ability as a defensive forward that made him such a valuable player for BC coach Jerry York.
As a freshman, Almeida became one of York's most trusted penalty killers, and a reliable bottom six player. Generating offense when he could, but relying on his hockey IQ and speed, helped him earn a regular shift as a freshman. The 2008-09 season was not BC's best, as it missed the NCAA tournament, but the bounty of brilliant forwards was still present. So Almeida accepted his role, sparking energy and killing scoring chances with a man down.
York sees his ascent to a top forward in Hockey East as a result of his years spent as a depth player.
"We had an awful lot of good forwards (when Almeida was a freshman,) but he carved out a spot on a regular line and shift," York said after Saturday's win. "He was always an extraordinary penalty killer. Now he's just developing more confidence, and you can see it in his whole game. He's making great plays, and he's scoring goals."
As a sophomore, York's trust in Almeida was clear, as he placed him alongside center Matt Price and right wing Matt Lombardi on BC's shutdown line. Playing with Price and Lombardi, two of the Eagles' most respected players, taught Almeida the skills necessary to be a truly dominant defensive forward in Hockey East. Doing so as a penalty killer is one thing, but becoming that player at even strength is something entirely different.
"I was a bottom six player, and a penalty killer, who created some energy," Almeida said. "I was in a shutdown role my sophomore year. I played with Matt Price and Matt Lombardi, facing other teams' top lines. I learned a lot from those guys, and I've really integrated it into my game now.
"I pride myself on my defense. Great defense always leads to offensive opportunities, so I try to keep that in mind every game."
That sophomore season, the true value of a reliable defensive winger was especially clear. Almeida watched as Lombardi, an unheralded walk-on who earned every second of ice time he saw as an Eagle, became the Hockey East Tournament's Most Valuable Player. Lombardi scored three goals in the conference championship game, including the overtime winner, as BC defeated Maine, 7-6. Three weeks later, the Eagles were crowned national champions after trouncing Wisconsin, 5-0.
It's that memory that drives Almeida heading into the final weekend of the regular season. The Eagles hold a two-point lead over Boston University in the race for the league's regular season championship. Collecting these lesser trophies is but a prelude to the ultimate prize for Almeida and his teammates. The thrill of watching Price, Lombardi and the other BC seniors in 2010 win a championship in their final game still resonates.
"It was unbelievable. It's something you dream about," Almeida said of winning a championship as a senior." You want to go out on top, to go out as a champion. Matt Price and those guys did it, and it's unbelievable to do that."
However, the agony of skating off the ice in St. Louis last March, and watching the careers of John Muse, Cam Atkinson and other BC players end with an 8-4 throttling at the hands of Colorado College, serves as equally strong motivation.
"They're some of my closest friends. Still keep in touch with them. They had a fantastic career, and it was a shame that we couldn't finish the deal for them," Almeida said.
The current freshmen, sophomores and juniors hope to send Almeida and the remaining BC seniors out as champions. The class has been a part of Hockey East championships their last two seasons on top of the national title in 2010. Fittingly, Saturday's win over Providence was its 100th as a class.
Almeida, however, is just one player. A part of a group focused on bringing BC its fifth national championship.
As the season progresses, it will be Kreider and the Eagles' other headliners drawing most of the attention. The last five months, though, have demonstrated that any BC win will have Almeida at the center of it. Whether it's a suffocating effort on the penalty kill, a nifty goal on a breakaway or a high-energy shift, Almeida does it all now.
"This is by far his best year with us," York said of Almeida. "He's got 19 goals, and it's a remarkable achievement for him. We think there are a lot more goals on that stick as we go through the year.
"He's become that much more valuable to us," York continued. He's always been able to kill penalties like he has, but he's also a great power play guy for us now. It'd be nice to have a few more Barry Almeidas."