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Barry Almeida overcomes eye injury, focuses on Boston College's spot in Frozen Four

TAMPA

In the blink of an eye, a life can change.

For Barry Almeida, it was a piercing, bloody blink, one that left him temporarily blinded and needing multiple surgeries just to see basic shapes again.

Six years later, the senior finds himself leading the Boston College team he grew up rooting for into the Frozen Four.

Almeida refers to his 2006 accident as "a little hiccup in the road," one that made him better appreciate hockey.

This season, the Eagles have given fans plenty to be thankful for: a third consecutive victory in the Beanpot tournament over city rivals Boston, Northeastern and Harvard; a 17-game winning streak; consensus No. 1 national ranking; and a fifth Frozen Four appearance over the past eight seasons.

This season's campaign has brought a renaissance of the offensive numbers Almeida posted during his junior hockey days, back when he was wrestling in the hallways with roommate and current Winnipeg Jets prospect Will O'Neill and recording about a point per game.

In his first three seasons at Boston College, Almeida scored seven, eight and eight goals. This season, as a top-six forward who logs time on the power play, he is tied for the team lead with 22 goals and has 38 points in 42 games.

"His history suggested that he was a goal scorer," Eagles coach Jerry York said. "It's just been an aberration the last couple of years, and now he's back to where he should be."

Had his career worked out as planned, Almeida would not have been part of this Eagles team. He would have already graduated after coming to the Chestnut Hill campus in the fall of 2007, not 2008.

"We always brought Barry up that you never be a quitter. You always have to be positive, and that's all I could tell him," his mother, Anna, said. " 'Don't worry, you're going to be fine.' "

• • •

Almeida committed to Boston College in May 2006 as a 17-year-old. As the reigning Eastern Junior Hockey League MVP who had completed a stint with the U.S. under-17 national team, he had plenty of options for his last year of juniors. The previous fall, he had been drafted in the first round by the Chicago Steel of the U.S. Hockey League, the top junior league in the country.

Everything was put on hold, though, that summer.

Almeida was sitting at a graduation party for one of his buddies when someone tossed a glass bottle into the bonfire. The bottle exploded, and a shard of glass shot into Almeida's left eye. His retina was torn.

"It was the worst day of my life," Anna said.

"It was catastrophic," York said. "He could not see out of his eye at all. Worst-case scenario, he would lose the eye."

Almeida, a Springfield, Mass., native, was rushed to Boston for surgery, the first of many. His parents had recently sold their house and were staying with his grandparents, so that's where Anna headed after the initial operation.

"We walked in. I didn't even have my pocketbook down yet, and my mother said, 'There's a phone call for you. I think it's Boston College,' " Anna said. "And I get on the phone, and it's Jerry York."

"I told her, 'Don't worry about the hockey,' " York said. " 'Let's just get him healthy. Whether or not he ever comes back to play hockey again, we're committed to having him come to Boston College, still be on scholarship and pursue a degree.' "

• • •

After about two weeks, Almeida was eager to return to the rink. His parents, though, did the best they could to ensure he rested enough for a full recovery.

"There were times when I wanted to choke him, but he did okay," Anna said.

Doctors drained excess blood from the retina in later surgeries and reinserted his lens, which sharpened his vision. In total, he missed about half a season.

Almeida signed with the Omaha Lancers, a USHL team in Nebraska, that winter and made his debut in January 2007. He lived with Bev and Kirk Muffly, hosts to several players who have won NCAA championships and a few who have gone on to the NHL.

O'Neill, whom Almeida had grown up playing against in Massachusetts, lived in the bedroom across the hall.

Despite having not played a game in about a year, Almeida recorded 10 goals and 17 assists in 31 regular-season games.

"It didn't look like he missed a beat," said O'Neill, who is currently in the American Hockey League. "He only had shadows in that eye. But he persevered, put his nose to the floor and really worked his butt off."

After the 2006-07 season, the Boston College coaching staff and Almeida's family decided it would be best for his development to play one more season in Omaha. He had 22 goals and 38 assists for 60 points in 56 regular-season games.

His biggest goal, though, came in overtime of Game 5 of the Clark Cup final, which gave the Lancers the league title. While Almeida won the USHL title, Boston College won its first NCAA title in seven years. When he arrived on campus that fall, the Eagles were ranked No. 1, just as they are now.

Boston College won another national title in 2010, Almeida's sophomore season. While that was special, he knows what would top it.

"2010 was unreal, but to do it again, do it as a senior, that's something special," Almeida said. "The most memorable moment would be that national championship in Tampa, Fla. That would overcome everything."

Laura Keeley can be reached at lkeeley@tampabay.com.

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Barry Almeida overcomes eye injury, focuses on Boston College's spot in Frozen Four 04/04/12 [Last modified: Thursday, April 5, 2012 12:10am]

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