By Leif Skodnick
Special To ECHL.com
Mississippi Sea Wolves’ goaltender Matt Underhill got used to life on the road last year, even when playing for the home team.
“I got used to living out of a suitcase,” said Underhill, who began the season with the ECHL’s Pee Dee Pride before being called up to the Norfolk Admirals of the American Hockey League and eventually the Chicago Blackhawks of the National Hockey League. He also appeared in four games with the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs.
“It was definitely a busy year. I never got to settle into any one place,” said the 25-year-old, who had 29 saves in a 4-3 overtime loss against Edmonton in his first NHL start. “But getting called up to Chicago makes it worth it. It’s your goal and it’s what you are working towards.”
At the beginning of this season, Underhill entered training camp with the AHL’s Providence Bruins, but was released prior to the start of the season.
Mississippi head coach Bob Woods jumped at his chance to sign one of the best goaltenders on the market.
“I got a call from his agent saying Matt had been released from Providence,” Woods said. “You have to take a goalie of his caliber when you can get him.”
“I had a few options. I looked at what Mississippi had done recently, and what Bob Woods had built here, and it seemed like a good opportunity,” said Underhill, who is in his third professional season.
After two seasons of playing well enough to advance to the next level, Underhill knows what he has to do to return to the top level.
“To be a good goalie, you have to be your toughest critic,” states the Cornell University graduate. “I want to earn another call up, and I have to do what I have to do to be the best. That’s how you get called up.”
After a slow start as a team, Underhill has helped the Sea Wolves claw their way back into the hunt in the South Division of the American Conference.
“I expect him to come in and be one of the better goalies in the league,” stated Woods. “He works harder than most of the goalies I’ve worked with. He and Jason [Wolfe, the Sea Wolves other goaltender] push each other hard and challenge each other to play better every day.”
“The team is starting to gel,” said Underhill, who has posted a 4-4-3 record for the Sea Wolves, including a win in front of family and friends against the Victoria Salmon Kings in his home province of British Columbia.
“It was pretty exciting,” says Underhill. “I don’t think I’ve played a game in B.C. since I was in Bantams, when I was 15.”
Woods is pleased with Underhill so far and thinks the netminder has a bright future.
“I think he has huge potential,” stated Woods, who is in his fourth season as head coach in Mississippi. “He’s been up there and had a taste, and he’s hungry to get back. He’s willing to do whatever it takes. Unfortunately, the NHL situation isn’t the best right now and it’s maybe knocked him off track a bit, but he’s still playing. You’ve just got to keep playing in that situation.”
Underhill’s determination and level-headed attitude are two elements of his personality that will help him punch his ticket back to the top.
“It seems so close to unattainable when you are a kid,” Underhill said of reaching the NHL. “Then you get there and you realize that the players are just like you. They’re working hard to stay there. When you get there, you just want to earn a spot, and you know what you have to do to earn it.”
“Right now, I am happy to be here. I am hoping to get called up, I want to get back up to the NHL again, but if I don’t, I’m happy to play right here.”