Littleton native Kirk Underwood, who played high school hockey at Regis Jesuit, recently transferred to UNLV to join its up-and-coming hockey program. Contributed photo/ The Rebel Report
In his first season at UNLV, Underwood is finding he enjoys life in the desert — and he especially likes playing in a city that has eaten up the game like a tourist in a buffet line. Underwood took some time between classes, training and yes, a visit to a Vegas Golden Knights game, to talk with the Colorado Hockey Hub.
Colorado Hockey Hub: How did you get into playing hockey?
Kirk Underwood: I started getting into the game of hockey because of my older sister. She was a goalie in roller hockey. I watched her growing up — I thought it was so cool and I wanted to try it. I didn’t go the goalie route, obviously, but I got started in roller hockey. I switched over to ice hockey in eighth grade.
CO Hockey Hub: How was your experience playing at Regis Jesuit High School?
KU: That was an amazing experience. I didn’t expect to make the team because they had some really good talent, but I made the varsity team as a freshman. It allowed my game to grow.
CO Hockey Hub: What kind of advice would you give kids going into a high school hockey program?
KU: The biggest one is to enjoy the moment. Those are some of the best days you’ll ever have playing hockey. Remember where you are, and play for that kind of moment rather than thinking, ‘I have to score in this game,’ or ‘I haven’t had a goal in three games.’ Just enjoy it.
"Two players I’ve always looked up to was, one, Sidney Crosby because that was the era I grew up in when he was coming in. I grew up thinking he was the only player who could do the things he did. The other one, being in Colorado, is Joe Sakic. Watching what he could do, it was mesmerizing. "
— Kirk Underwood
CO Hockey Hub: You left Regis in 2013-14 and went to play juniors. How did that transition go?
KU: Halfway through my sophomore year I went to the Metropolitan Junior Hockey League. I played every single game and had 12 points in 14 games. That was a really good start. It was much more physical and fast. There was a big learning curve there but it was kind of nice being tossed into the fire.
CO Hockey Hub: From juniors, you headed to Chatham University. Why Chatham?
KU: Chatham, for me, it was a first-year program for the year that I was going to be there. I thought that I would have an opportunity to play a lot, and I did. I played 24 out of 25 games my freshman year. Plus, it’s in Pittsburgh, right in the city, so I got to watch someone that idolize growing up, which was Sidney Crosby.
CO Hockey Hub: What do you do in your free time?
KU: I’m pretty academically and athletically driven. I’m always trying to get better at the game. A lot of us on the team live in the same apartment complex, where we’re fortunate enough to have a pool, and a courtyard, and a gym; and a lot of the guys are pretty driven to be successful. We work on our skills together and do some fun athletic things like playing spike ball. There’s also no shortage of things to do in Vegas, like go down to the Strip and see all the sights.
CO Hockey Hub: Are you an In-N-Out guy? If so, do you go Animal Style?
KU: Oh, of course. You have to.
CO Hockey Hub: If you weren’t playing hockey in Vegas, what would you be doing?
KU: Well, if I was in Vegas but not playing hockey maybe I’d be playing golf.
UNLV is building its hockey program and what it has already accomplished, along with what it hopes to accomplish, convinced Littleton native Kirk Underwood to transfer there. Contributed photo/ UNLV Hockey
CO Hockey Hub: Compare D-III hockey to where you’re at now, an ACHA D-1 program. What are some similarities? Some differences?
KU: There’s this idea that the ACHA isn’t that good, or it’s just a lot of guys who just want to keep playing, and that’s not necessarily the case. We (at UNLV) have a lot of guys who could crash some [NCAA] DI lineups… The difference was the talent level. At UNLV, the talent is pretty dang good. The coaching here comes from a place of understanding rather than thinking that there’s an end all be all. The coaching here is unmatched.
CO Hockey Hub: Now you’re in Las Vegas. Why did you choose to transfer to UNLV?
KU: The [spring break] trip when I went out there was when I made that decision. It was a culmination of things. I really liked the culture that UNLV had created, along with the talent that I saw. I wanted to be part of that as well.
CO Hockey Hub: Tell us outsiders what it’s like playing college hockey in Las Vegas.
KU: It is truly something else; I think truly what everyone saw was the Golden Knights and how successful they were, and then after the tragic event (the Route 91 concert shooting in Oct. 2017) and how they responded. Vegas loves hockey now. They appreciate good hockey and they see it, and they kind of rallied around hockey as well. We have people who come to every single practice, we have hundreds of people who go to our games, people asking for pictures and autographs. And it is just very professional program, which is really, really cool.
CO Hockey Hub: Given all the success the Vegas Golden Knights have had in the NHL, do you see that translate into hockey crowds at Skatin’ Rebels games?
KU: I’ve only been here for one year, so I can touch on it only so much. I think a lot of what they did put hockey on the map in the desert. What they did right away, it was tough for people not to watch. Now people are really exploring the game. We are the next best team in Vegas since there’s no longer a semi-pro team.