(Courtesy Marc Smith) Justin Almeida was a fifth overall pick in the WHL Bantam Draft and scored 80 goals and 147 points in his final year of bantam hockey.
Despite that pedigree, the Kitimat, BC product never really got a chance to show what he could do during his season-and-a-half with the Prince George Cougars, but that changed at the WHL Trade Deadline in January when he was acquired by the Moose Jaw Warriors.
Almeida was the key piece coming back to Moose Jaw in the deal that sent Nikita Popugaev to the Cougars and he was given a new opportunity when he joined the Warriors.
“It was great, everyone in this organization is unbelievable and I just tried to run with the opportunity that I was given and do the best that I could with the ice time that I was getting,” said Almeida. “I thought that I did really well here and enjoyed my time.”
In 33 games with the Warriors, Almeida scored seven goals and 15 points, which was three more goals and two more points than he had in 37 games with the Cougars. All four of his goals and nine of his points with Prince George came in the first 13 games when they had a number of players away at NHL camps.
Almeida was able to play some more meaningful minutes once he joined the Warriors, seeing time everywhere from the first line to the third line and getting a chance to play on the second power play unit.
He thrived in that role.
“Every time you play more, you get more confidence and with more confidence, you’ll play better,” said Almeida. “Getting to play with more skilled guys that compliment me was really nice.
“The team really made me feel like a brother right away in the room and I felt like I fit in right away.”
With a little more confidence in his game now heading into the offseason, Almeida said he plans to build off the gains that he made during the second half.
“The biggest thing is, because I’m a smaller player, put on some more weight and get stronger and that will really benefit my game next year,” said Almeida.
Like the rest of the team, Almeida was disappointed to have their season end in the first round of the playoffs, but he believes that the team will learn from the experience and come back stronger next season.
“It sucks losing and we’re going to have that feeling through the whole offseason,” he said. “Coming into next year, it’s a chance to redeem ourselves and next year at playoff time, we’ll remember what it takes and move forward from it.
“We needed to have more urgency in the playoffs, we started to play with it at the end of the series, but we needed it right from the start.”
Almeida had two goals in seven games during the post-season.