Michael Underwood grew up in Michigan and played his youth hockey in the state. Underwood was drafted by the Fargo Force in the USHL in 2014 but stayed with the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies. He then joined the Aston Rebels (now the Philadelphia Rebels) of the NAHL before being selected by the Green Bay Gamblers, where he currently plays. Underwood has appeared in 46 games and is slated to attend Clarkson next season.
Neutral Zone chatted with Underwood about his time in the NAHL, why he chose Clarkson and more.
Neutral Zone: How and when did you start playing hockey?
Michael Underwood: I started skating when I was three years old. My parents put me in a few different sports when I was younger and I fell in love with everything about hockey.
NZ: What’s your earliest memory from playing hockey?
MU: My earliest memory from hockey is getting up early and going to practice when I was young, when it was still dark out and we would go to the rink and practice then go out to breakfast after. One of my favorite memories when I was younger was playing at the Brick tournament in Edmonton, Alberta. Playing in the mall and being with my teammates for the week in a hotel was an absolute blast.
NZ: What was your youth hockey experience like?
MU: I had a great youth hockey experience playing with some very talented players and playing for great coaches who helped me become the player I am today. I went to some awesome tournaments like the PeeWee Quebec Tournament and the Brick Invitational, both of which were extremely fun with great competition.
NZ: How did you end up in the NAHL?
MU: The summer going into my U18 year with Oakland, I went to Rio Grande Valley’s camp at Troy Sports Center. I had a pretty good camp and continued to talk with them throughout the year. Around November I signed a tender and went down to Rio Grande, Tex., to play some games. The summer heading into the next season was when we all found out that the team would be relocating to Aston, Penn., and become the Aston Rebels. I played for Aston for two years and it was towards the end of my second season that I was drafted by Green Bay.
NZ: Take us through the NCAA recruitment process. What other schools were you talking to and where did you visit?
MU: The recruitment process for me was something that did not happen right away. I had to be patient and keep working towards it. When I got my first call from a school, I was super excited but I knew that it was not a decision to be made quickly and that I need to be sure it was the right fit for me and my family. When I received the call from Clarkson I was ecstatic because I knew what a great program it was and also that the academic side was second to none.
NZ: What made you decide to commit to Clarkson? What went into that decision for you and your family to know it was the right place?
MU: When I first talked with the coaches, I knew I could definitely see myself playing for them, and then once I stepped on campus and saw the arena and the culture they had built in the locker room I knew it was the place for me. I fell in love with everything about it. The town is awesome and everyone is super supportive of the hockey team. The campus and rink are both beautiful and the education side of it is awesome. I talked with my parents and told them how much I loved it after my visit, and they were completely behind me in my decision and were very happy with my choice.
NZ: What’s the best piece of advice anyone’s given you in hockey?
MU: The best piece of advice that I’ve gotten while playing hockey is to be the best version of you that you can be and not to worry about doing things that aren’t part of your game. Doing what you do to the best of your ability and focusing on what you can control. My coaches told me that at a young age and it has always stuck with me.
NZ: What are your best on-ice skills?
MU: My best on-ice skills are my defensive play, positioning, passing, vision, and shot. I play strong defensively and make a strong first pass. My vision is also a strong point of my game I believe. My shot is one of the best aspects of my game, and I have spent countless hours in my driveway and in gyms shooting trying to get my shot better.
NZ: What aspect of your game are you working on improving the most?
MU: One of the things I am focusing on right now is developing the offensive side of my game. I believe I do a good job contributing offensively, but I can always do more and become better. Overall, I feel I can constantly be getting better in every facet of my game.
NZ: Is there a professional player you model your game after?
MU: Growing up watching the Red Wings, Nick Lidström always stood out to me. He consistently made strong defensive plays while contributing a lot on the offensive side of the puck. Off the ice he was a great leader, always setting an example for his teammates and being that guy that people could go to with any sort of question. I have always tried to model my game like him because I believe he is one of the best defensemen to ever play the game.
NZ: Who’s been the biggest influence in your hockey career?
MU: My parents have been the biggest influences in my hockey career without a doubt. The support they give me is unbelievable. My dad has always been one of my biggest supporters, but isn’t afraid to let me know when I’m not playing to my potential. I talk to my dad before every game. On my ride to the rink I call him and he reminds me what I need to do to be successful, and after he’s done he ends with, “But I know you know that stuff.” Even though I do know, I still call and he still tells me, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. My Mom has given me so much support ever since I started playing. She is always the one encouraging me and making sure I have the right stuff I need to succeed, and there is nothing she wouldn’t do for me.
NZ: What’s the toughest challenge you’ve faced in hockey?
MU: One of the toughest challenges I have faced in hockey was getting dropped from my first junior team. This only made me work harder and made me more determined. It was one of those things that makes you take a step back and re-evaluate yourself and see what you need to do to be better.
Photo Credit: Hickling Images