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WHL recognized the sportsmanship of this former Prince George, Cariboo Cougar

Justin Almeida won the honour as the league’s most gentlemanly player for 2018-19

The Western Hockey League (WHL) handed out its annual regular season awards Wednesday (May 1) in Red Deer, a day before today’s Bantam Draft (May 2).

Former Prince George Cougar Justin Almeida was announced the winner of the Brad Hornung Trophy as the league's Most Sportsmanlike Player

The 20-year-old from Kitimat, B.C. stayed out of the sin bin more than any other top-15 scorer in the WHL this year, only picking up 14 penalty minutes in 64 games.

“It’s a huge honour,” said Almeida in a WHL interview after the ceremony. “It’s something that you look to do is to play with respect for officials and teammates, and of course anyone else you come in contact with. Being recognized for something like that is very special.”

He was able to put his skills at a faster pace, as a result, recording 33 goals and 111 points with the Warriors, which placed him third in league-scoring and earned his team a playoff berth.

“It's very competitive, so you want to pay the cleanest you can,” Almeida explained when asking how he was able to keep up its physical play while also maintaining a level of respect. “You want to play on the line and not over it. So it’s something I strive to do and I think this year it's something that I accomplished.”

Almeida signed an entry-level contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Mar. 11, the team that drafted him in the fifth round, 129th overall in the 2018 NHL Draft.

He looks forward to joining the big league in the fall, but understands the next step up will require an extra set of self-confidence

“Going into the next level, it’s a lot bigger, it’s a lot stronger, it’s a lot faster. So keeping the confidence from the WHL and having great off-season training is a big key for me. I think that’s how I’ll be able to continue my success in the pros.”

Almeida will represent the WHL at the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Awards banquet later this month, with the national awards winners announced during the Memorial Cup in Halifax.

The Prince George Cougars drafted Almeida fifth overall in the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft and traded him to Moose Jaw in Jan. 2017.

He also played 85 games with the Cariboo Cougars in the B.C. Major Midget Hockey League (BCMML), taking his team to the finals in 2015.

- with files from Randy Palmer, Moose Jaw Today