ORONO, Maine — Bob Corkum, who has been the associate head coach of the University of Maine’s men’s hockey program since 2008, was named the interim head coach of the Black Bears on Wednesday, one day after it was announced that head coach Tim Whitehead was fired after 12 seasons.
And Corkum would like the interim label to be eventually changed to permanent head coach.
“I’m very excited and very grateful to President [Paul] Ferguson and [Athletic Director] Steve Abbott for entrusting me to run the program on an interim basis,” Corkum said Wednesday. “It’s certainly something I take very seriously. There is still a lot of work to be done between now and the time they name a coach.
“I know there are going to be a lot of great candidates and it’s going to be a very tough decision but I feel that I’m very capable of leading this team. I’ve been around five years, I’ve coached these kids, I know their positives and negatives and they know me.
“I would look forward to putting my spin on the program and I hope I get the opportunity to do that,” he added.
A formal national search for a permanent men’s ice hockey coach will begin immediately with the formation of a search committee.
Whitehead was fired with one year left on his contract after going 96-102-28 over the past six years. He had posted a 154-69-26 mark in his first six seasons and led the Black Bears to six straight NCAA Tournament appearances, four Frozen Fours and two NCAA title game appearances.
But the Black Bears made just one NCAA tourney (2011-2012 season) over the past six years.
Corkum knows what it’s like to go from the outhouse to the penthouse.
During his freshman season at the University of Maine, the Black Bears went 11-28-1, including a 16-2 loss to the University of Minnesota.
Two years later, the Black Bears won 34 games and reached the Frozen Four for the first time, and his senior year, when he was one of the captains, the team won 31 more games and reached the Frozen Four again.
“Bob Corkum was a great Black Bear and NHL player,” Abbott said. “He did a terrific job as an associate head coach and I am confident that he can give us stability during this time of transition.”
Corkum played for Maine from 1985 to ’89 and went on to a 12-year NHL career. While a Black Bear, he helped build the foundation of the UMaine program, serving as captain in 1988-89. He was part of the university’s first three NCAA Tournament teams and in 1988, Corkum was named UMaine’s Most Inspirational Player.
Corkum said his immediate concern is supplying stability to the program and assuring the returning players and incoming recruits that it is in their best interest to honor their commitments to Maine.
He said he has “nothing but respect” for Whitehead but pointed out that he would be a different kind of head coach. He will be more animated than the mild-mannered Whitehead.
“My brand of hockey is like smash-mouth football,” said the 46-year-old Corkum. “I like physical teams that play with a high tempo. We will be disciplined and the players will be held accountable on and off the ice.”
One of his priorities if he is named the permanent head coach would be to re-establish Maine’s home-ice advantage. Maine went a dismal 2-9-6 at home this past season en route to its 11-19-8 record.
“We need to establish the fact Alfond Arena is not a place where we lose,” said Corkum. “The Maine fans want excitement and a team that shows up every night and gives 110 percent no matter who we’re playing.”
He also said he will do “anything I can to get the people who have left the program back, even if I have to go door-to-door. One of the great things about [late former Maine coach Shawn Walsh] was he made everybody feel like part of the team. The Friends of Maine Hockey is a tremendous group and we need more members.”
Corkum also said he wants to embrace alums “without always asking them for something. I’d just like to invite them to come to a game.”
Maine has dipped from 3,600 to 1,900 season ticket holders and its average home attendance of 4,175 this past season was the lowest since the 1991-92 season.
Dan Kerluke, the other associate head coach, said he isn’t interested in the job but fully backs Corkum for the permanent position.
“He’s the right man for the job,” said Kerluke Wednesday. “Bob and I share [Walsh’s] philosophies.”
He said Corkum fully understands the financial constraints (i.e. recruiting budget) and will find a way to work around them and return the program to elite status.
“We want to bring back the philosophies of Coach Walsh. The recipe of success was established by him. That’s what the fans want to see,” said Kerluke.
Kerluke also noted that Corkum has an engaging personality and will establish a strong community presence and will renew interest in the program.
Kerluke said if Corkum becomes the head coach, he would love to remain as an assistant and Corkum said he would certainly consider it.
“Dan and I work well together. We were brought up under Shawn and have a very similar vision in a lot of areas,” said Corkum. “But that decision would have to be made later.”
Whitehead said he would love to see Corkum and Kerluke remain with the program.
“That would be fabulous. They are tremendous young coaches,” he said.
Corkum was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres and went on to play 720 games in the NHL for seven teams. He finished with 97 goals and 103 assists.
He said he has been blessed to have played for some top-notch coaches like Walsh, current New York Rangers coach and former Black Bears John Tortorella, former Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils coach Larry Robinson and Jim Schoenfeld, who coached four NHL teams.
Corkum has spent part of the past two summers coaching with USA Hockey. He came to Maine from the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs of the Eastern Junior Hockey League, where he was associate head coach from 2006 to ’08.
Corkum and his wife, Jessica, have four children and one grandchild.