Barry Almeida and TJ Syner signed for the Blaze in the winter of 2016. Brought in as a late addition just before Christmas the American pair proved to be fan favourites and the offensive pairing that the Blaze had needed to complete their roster. They are an outstanding double act on the ice and their journey together began when they were only 5 years old.
“It was practice for our youth team add our parents put us on the same team. Our parents became friends after that and it kind of went from there.” TJ tells me. “We both played for our town team and played together right up until junior hockey.” At this point, they went to separate colleges. TJ found himself at the University of Massachusetts and Barry to Boston. So used to being on the same team it was in 2012 that they found themselves playing against each other.
“It was weird, playing against each other in college but pretty cool at the same time. We played each other the year before but at college it’s about 4 times a year so it’s really special. You want the other person to do well but at the same time you want to win.” Barry explains with occasional interjections by TJ. Barry definitely comes across as the most competitive of the two. It’s okay for TJ to score, so long as Barry gets twice as many.
Photo Credit: Scott Wiggins
These two ideally enjoy playing as a pair. When with the Blaze the two were put on a line with now Steeler Matt Marquardt and the three worked incredibly effectively together. I wondered how important it was to find the right third. With as much experience as they have together, how important was it that they find the right third? “As long as everyone is working hard and working together it’s great. It just takes a little while to work it together.”
Out of college, firstly TJ was signed by the Hershey Bears of the AHL, the affiliate for the NHL’s Washington Capitals and a few months later the team approached Barry and offered him the same contract. They have been playing together pretty much ever since. “If we can [work as a pair] that would be ideal. We weren’t sure if that was going to happen and were looking for jobs separately. It was just by chance that the Blaze signed us together.”
How does the Elite League compare to other leagues they have played in around the world? “Of all of the European leagues, this one is probably the most Americanised. It’s physical but you’re playing on bigger ice surfaces so that takes the physicality out of it a little bit.” What have they learned about themselves from being here? Has anything surprised them about the EIHL? “I was more surprised that the hockey was so good over here.” Barry begins. “When we came over, we knew it was the top league but the hockey is really good and the fans are great.”
“The following is great.” TJ jumps in. “Obviously being more of a football county we didn’t know what to expect but the fans are really passionate. All of the venues have been great here. It exceeded our expectations.”
Playing together for most of their lives I wanted to know who was the most competitive. Did they know each other’s stats?
Q. Who has the most goals? At that point they both had the same number and both knew it too!
Q. Who has the most assists? *silence* TJ had the most, by 3 with 27, Barry had 24.
Q. Who has the most penalty minutes? TJ: Barry. Oh wait I just got 10 last game, so maybe it’s me. It was TJ by 4 minutes. TJ: Oh man, that ten really threw me off.
Earlier in the season, I’d laid two Hershey Bears cards in front of the guys at the Blaze quiz night. TJ was on our team and so I’d asked him to sign it. He’d called Barry over and both were quite amazed that they’d made it to trading cards. Both laughed when I reminded them of their reactions to it.
Who were the guys insirations growing up? A lot of players I’ve spoken to give similar answers depending on the position they play and since the guys grew up I had my suspicions on what they’d pick. “Well the Bruins were our team because of where we grew up.” “They still are.” TJ interjects. “My cousin plays for the Bruins, so obviously we watch them a lot. As for players, Forsberg and Sakic playing together for the Avalanche.”
Since leaving the Coventry Blaze, the guys have signed with the Worcester Railers of the ECHL. The Railers are an affiliate of the NHL’s New York Islanders and it’s seen them return to their home state of Massachusetts. Both guys have been playing well so far this season and we wish them all the best as they continue on with their careers. Long may that continue.
Photos of Almeida and Syner in Blaze uniform were taken by Scott Wiggins.