By John Shimer
---- — Will former Triton legend Bob Corkum become the next head coach of the University of Maine Black Bears?
With the recent buyout of former 12-year head coach Tim Whitehead and the announcement Corkum was tagged as the interim head coach after serving previously as the associate head coach since 2008, the former NHL veteran seems to be in a great position to take over his dream job at his alma mater.
“It’s just a tag, there’s a lot going on that we had to analyze last week, especially in terms of keeping the recruits on board and assuring them things are going to be OK,” said Corkum of the past week. “Obviously, coaching at your alma mater, I can’t think of anything that is more exciting, but at this point the university is going through the search process, and I am going to have to apply like everyone else. At the end of the process, they’ll hire a candidate.”
For many reasons, Corkum would appear to have the inside track. Coming out of Triton, Corkum led UMaine to its first three trips in the NCAA tournament and its first two appearances in the Frozen Four in 1988 and ’89, both years as a team captain. Following up a terrific collegiate career, Corkum played 12 seasons in the NHL with seven different teams, and has since built a terrific coaching resume from USA Hockey back to his alma mater.
And having spent five seasons already back at UMaine, the interim head coach knows the ropes from the types of players on his roster to how the administration operates.
“I think they’re certainly looking for a fresh approach, and I do have the inside track to the players,” Corkum said. “I know what they’re very good at, and I know their faults as well as the incoming class and future recruits. I think I have knowledge of how the system works, in house the way the administrators work, the challenges we have within our budget being at Maine and not being as affluent as some of the big money schools if you will. I understand all those things.
“At the end of the day I know the university and the people of Maine want someone that’s going to win some games first of all and be in contention for the tournament every year,” the Salisbury native asserted. “Someone that’s going to reach out to them and make them feel like they’re part of the family.
“Everyone is a part of it up here, that’s what makes it such a great place to play. It’s well documented our fans up here are extremely knowledgeable and extremely loyal, and they demand a lot from the athletic department and the players themselves. They want to see a hard-working product on the ice and one that has success.”
Although the team had a significant dip in results this past season, going just 11-19-8 after the 2011-12 year saw the Black Bears reach the Hockey East championship game and the first round of the NCAA tournament, Corkum believes there are significant building blocks to put Maine right back at the top of the collegiate pecking order.
“This wasn’t the season that we hoped for. At the same time we had a lot of good come out of this season,” Corkum said. “Our freshmen scored a lot of goals. At the end of the day over the course of the year, the freshmen accounted for 40 percent of (the team’s) scoring. Another bright spot was the play of Martin Ouellette, a junior goaltender from Quebec, who had an outstanding year and certainly kept us in every single game. It was unusual the amount of one-goal games we had; I think it ended up being nine in all.
“So the numbers weren’t where we liked them, that’s for sure, but at the same time there were some positives. Our freshman class was among the best in the entire nation. I think we can build on that, and we have another strong recruiting class coming in this year. Hopefully they can toe the line there. Our goaltending was great, and I really liked the way the team handled the tough start and regained itself in the second half of the season. We were only behind Lowell as far as points gained in Hockey East play, so that’s another step in the right direction and hopefully I’m in a position to build on that next year.”
In Corkum’s mind, UMaine is still one of the premier “it” jobs in all of college hockey, one that he intends to stamp his own style of hockey on if he is selected.
“I think we’re going to try to change the style. I prefer a more physical style of play with more emphasis being on winning the battles in front of the net at both ends of the ice,” said Corkum. “I think as a head coach I would mention some of the accountability in not taking some stupid penalties that hurt the team, and we’ll address those mistakes in a timely fashion when it comes to young players. And once you set that precedent, carrying it through the rest of the year even if you have to sit one of your better players down at times.
“If my name was called at the end of the day, I would be extremely giddy, extremely excited to be a part of this program again from a head coaching standpoint, and put my own spin on the program and see where it takes us,” continued Corkum, who said former coaches like Walsh and Jim Tortorella and Terry Murray were significant influences on his own coaching mindset. “I have a lot of confidence in my abilities as a head coach and as a motivator. I also have Dan Kerlucke. We both played under Shawn Walsh, who’s a knowledgeable guy and shares a similar vision for our program.
“Shawn Walsh did an incredible job of building this program up and Tim Whitehead did a very good job of keeping it that way. At the end of the day Maine hockey is going to be fine whether it’s me or somebody else.”