The situation is less than ideal but Bob Corkum is used to challenges.
The newly-hired University of Maine hockey assistant coach returns to the program he helped lead to national prominence as a player.
Corkum came to Maine in the late Shawn Walsh’s second season and the Bears went 11-28-1 that year (1985-86). But they earned their first NCAA Tournament berth the next year and then participated in their first two Frozen Fours.
The third-round draft choice of the Buffalo Sabres overcame the odds to put together an impressive 720-game NHL career.
He effectively handled a variety of roles including hard-nosed winger, defensive specialist and faceoff wizard.
Maine failed to make the Hockey East playoffs last year after nine straight NCAA appearances.
The offensively-challenged Black Bears went 13-18-3 overall, 9-15-3 in Hockey East.
Maine will have even more question marks this season with an even younger lineup and an inexperienced goalie.
And assistants Guy Perron and Grant Standbrook have departed due to differences of opinion with head coach Tim Whitehead.
“There are certainly two sides to every story. I came in here with an open mind,” said the 40-year-old Corkum. “I want to help Tim, [assistant Dan Kerluke] and the team the best way I can.
“I’m very excited to come back here after all these years and to be part of such a great tradition. Everyone was disappointed about last season. We want to start building it back up,” said Corkum.
One positive, according to Corkum, is the fact “there are lots of spots open.”
That creates intense competition for playing spots.
“There are a lot of freshmen and 8-10 sophomores. There’s going to be opportunities for younger kids to play. In the past, when we’ve had real solid teams, you didn’t play much as a freshman unless you were an elite player,” said Corkum.
Corkum will impress upon the freshmen the meaning of wearing Black Bear colors.
“It’s a privilege to wear a Black Bear uniform. A lot of players before them worked awfully hard to get it to where it is today. They’ve earned the right to wear the uniform but if they don’t put forth the effort on a nightly basis, they’ll be watching,” said Corkum. “That’s the bottom line.
“You can control how hard you work every single night. You aren’t going to win every game but it’s important for a young team to focus on the process and not [dwell] on the end result. If you’re doing things well in a consistent manner night after night, you’re going to get more wins than losses,” said Corkum. “We have to get the majority of our players playing at the top-third of their games every night.”
Corkum will stress physical play.
“You need team toughness. Everybody can finish their checks. You don’t have to run everybody into the parking lot every time you hit them. But you can certainly eliminate their progress and slow them down,” said Corkum.
Faceoffs, he said, are a “huge part of the game. People don’t work on them as much as they should. If you have the puck, [your opponent] doesn’t. Good things happen when you have the puck.”
It will be a challenge but Corkum noted that Whitehead inherited one of the toughest jobs around when Walsh died.
“He’s got pretty thick skin. He’s confident in the players he has coming in this year and in the future and feels they can bring us back to national prominence,” said Corkum whose son, Kelen, will come to Maine next fall.