Bob Corkum was at a bit of a career crossroads. The former University of Maine hockey star and 12-year National Hockey League veteran lost his past two assistant coaching jobs with UMaine and the NHL’s New York Islanders when head coaches Tim Whitehead and Jack Capuano, respectively, were fired.
But his persistence has paid off. A long affiliation with USA Hockey has taken him on a new path as last year he landed the head coaching job for the U.S. women’s national team.
Corkum he has guided the U.S. women to championships in his first two tournaments behind the bench: the Four Nations Tournament in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, in November and the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships earlier this month in Espoo, Finland.
Corkum and his team have yet to taste defeat.
His Four Nations team went 4-0 in Saskatoon, including two wins over archrival Canada, and the World Championships squad went 7-0, beating host Finland 2-1 in a shootout in the title game.
“We got great goaltending and scoring by committee,” said Corkum, whose team had 11 players produce at least five points in the seven games led by Olympic team veteran Hilary Knight (7 goals, 4 assists). Alex Rigsby and 2018 Olympic hero Maddie Rooney were the goalies.
Corkum has reached a tentative agreement with USA Hockey to coach the women for the immediate future but USA Hockey has not appointed a coach for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China.
His first foray into coaching women came last August when he was named an assistant coach for the USA Under-22 team for its three-game series with Canada.
Reagan Carey, a member of the Maine Sports Hall of Fame who is a former ice hockey and volleyball player at Colby College, was the director of women’s hockey at USA Hockey at the time and gave Corkum the opportunity.
“I fell in love with it,” said the 51-year-old Corkum, a native of Salisbury, Massachusetts. “It has been very exciting. [Coaching women] has been a little bit different in some regards, but similar in others.”
He said the women are coachable and do not display some of the ego that is often present working with younger men and boys.
“It’s a maturity thing. I find it very refreshing talking to players who are looking right at you and trying to understand what you’re teaching them,” he said.
Corkum said the women are passionate about the game but have different motivations.
“They [women] aren’t playing for the big bucks. They’re playing for the love of the game and the love of playing for their country,” he said.
John Vanbiesbrouck, the assistant executive director of hockey operations for USA Hockey, praised Corkum for his efforts since taking the post.
“The role for him is very fitting,” Vanbiesbrouck said. “He has a good temperament, and he communicates well with the women. And he has been getting a good response from them.”
Vanbiesbrouch said the women appreciate Corkum’s coaching and respect the man who enjoyed a 720-game NHL career and who has been on a professional bench.
“Bob brings a level of professionalism that matches up with what they want to be,” Vanbiesbrouck said.
Corkum said he coaches the way he liked to be coached.
“It’s about building relationships,” Corkum said. “I always wanted to know where I stood, good or bad. I didn’t want coaches to sugarcoat anything. Be honest with me, and we’ll let things take care of themselves.”
Corkum, who registered 142 points in 159 games at UMaine, said winning a fifth straight world championship for the U.S. ranks among his career highlights, along with playing for New Jersey in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals in 2001. Colorado won 3-1.
“[Former Boston Bruins defenseman] Ray Bourque won his [Stanley] Cup,” Corkum said.
He spent five years as an assistant at UMaine, and served as the associate head coach and then as the interim head coach after Whitehead was fired. Corkum applied for the job, but it went to Red Gendron.
“It was very disappointing. I thought I would be able to do the job at Maine even under trying conditions,” Corkum said.
Former UMaine goalie Garth Snow, who was the general manager for the Islanders, hired Corkum to a player development position. He eventually became a coach under Capuano and was on the bench his last season (2016-17).
Corkum has coached at various levels of USA Hockey for 17 years and has coached age-group boys teams to international tournaments.
He and wife Jessica, who have five grandchildren, live in Hampton, New Hampshire.
Corkum will be behind the bench again with Team USA in November for the Four Nations Tournament in Sweden and at the 2020 World Championships in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
He hopes to be coaching Team USA in the 2022 Olympics but he knows that is a long way away.
“I’ll keep my options open. I’m very happy to be part of the women’s national team,” Corkum said.