“Playing goal isn’t fun.”
Those words come straight from the mouth of Matt Underhill, senior goaltender of the men’s hockey team. Whether that stands for other goalies notwithstanding, Underhill readily admits that he was never compelled to put on a gaudy mask and stand between the pipes — he was coerced to do so.
Here’s the scene: it’s midwinter in Campbell River, British Columbia. A young Underhill already hooked on hockey and looking for a pick-up game tags along with his older brother.
“I started when I was 11,” Underhill reached back into his past. “I think it was because of my brother. He was a defenseman, and he was a great player himself.”
But if Underhill wanted to play along side his brother, he had little say on where they were going to stick him.
“I didn’t have a choice, if I wanted to play with him and his friends, I had to play goal.”
That didn’t matter to the younger Underhill though. Back then, if stopping shots didn’t get his juices flowing, then stopping his brother did.
“Anybody who has a brother knows that if you get an upper hand at anything, it’s the greatest thing in the world. And when I played goal, I could stop him. It made me feel good that he’d get frustrated because of it.
“That’s how I became [a goalie],” Underhill continued, “but I stayed one because of the feeling I got.”
Bad fortune or not, Underhill’s early days between the pipes branded him a netminder for life. He was, for better or worse, hooked and there was no way could find an escape route.
“If I could have done anything else, I would have. But goalie was the only thing I was ever good at.”
Years later, Underhill now stands on the precipice of stardom. Last season, when he finished with a 13-8-3 record and nearly helped Cornell to its first ECAC championship since 1996, was Underhill’s first time alone in the spotlight. He was no longer second fiddle to anyone on the team, and with a .928 save percentage and and a 1.88 goals against average, he was arguably no longer second fiddle to anyone in the country.
Campbell River, self-proclaimed salmon capital of the world, sits on the east coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, a few hours north of the American border. It’s first and foremost a fisherman’s town. But, like most other Canadian towns, it’s a also a hockey town.
And it’s where Underhill first learned to love the game.
“I think it was natural,” he said of starting to play hockey at the age of three or four. “It’s what everyone did.”
Underhill, a self-professed Edmonton Oilers fan, just didn’t play though. Like most other Canadian sons, he sat with his dad and watched National Hockey Night.
“They were by far my favorite team ever,” Underhill said of Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers. “That’s what I thought hockey should have been —