ORONO – In the moments before Saturday’s 2-2 tie at Boston University, Bob Corkum had a word with Tim Whitehead, the head coach of the University of Maine hockey team.

Corkum, an assistant for Maine, admitted something to Whitehead. He was more nervous about his son’s first college game than he was about his first NHL game — March 16, 1990, when the Buffalo Sabres faced the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Funny to hear that coming from someone whose photo is plastered above the concourse of Alfond Arena and whose NHL resume includes 720 games and an appearance in the Stanley Cup finals.

But it was probably parental instinct speaking when Corkum’s son, a freshman center for the Black Bears, made his college debut. For Kelen Corkum, it was a personal landmark.

“It’s a big stepping stone for me, to becoming myself again,” said Corkum, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound freshman center. “I’ve proven to myself that I can come back from anything. It was one bad thing that happened to me after another, and I kept coming back. I’d get shot down, and then I’d come back and get hurt, then I’d come back again. But I’m taking everything I’ve learned through all that difficulty I went through and applying it now to everyday life.

“That first game? That first game was huge. I feel like myself again.”

Corkum, 20, spent parts of four years away from the game as a result of various injuries, including a cracked vertebra in 2006 and broken ribs in 2007, but most notably because of a series of concussions he sustained from 2006 to 2009.

While recovering, he learned how to consider the positive things in his life, and what he could accomplish by having the emotional strength and the proper mindset.

“If you don’t have a strong mind, you’re not going to have a strong body,” Corkum said. “You have to be tough mentally, and that will show in your physical strength. And when I was down, I thought of things that made me feel good, and what made me look forward to doing it again.”

He thought of the time he spent with the United States national team program. He thought of all the teammates with whom he’d formed bonds. He focused on enjoying the time with his parents, grandparents and three siblings.

Still, there was a psychological strain. As a teenager, he dealt with depression, a symptom of the concussions, and the strict limit on activity exacerbated the symptoms of depression.

One of the things that sustained him, he said, were the e-mails his father sent to him.

“One of the e-mails he sent me was the lyrics to a song he had heard, called ‘The Light at the End of the Tunnel,’ ” Corkum said. “When I started working out and I was symptom-free, and I got back on the ice and started feeling like myself again, that was the light.”

It hasn’t been determined yet if Corkum will be in the lineup this weekend when the Black Bears (4-1-3, 2-0-1 Hockey East) play Northeastern in a two-game series at Alfond Arena. But because of a rash of injuries to the Black Bears, ranked fifth in both national polls, Corkum got his chance to crack the lineup in Saturday’s tie at BU. He provided a physical presence at center, and executed well defensively.

Corkum’s now has the opportunity to learn the college game and adapt to a faster pace against older, stronger opponents.

“Kelen will bring an ingredient that will help the team tremendously,” Whitehead said. “He got his first game under his belt and now, we can build off that.”

When he steps on the ice again, chances are he’ll think back to his first college game at Agganis Arena, where he was finally back on the ice. His father was behind the bench. His grandfather was sitting in the stands behind bench.

“They were with me through this whole struggle of mine,” Corkum said. “To talk to my dad about it, it was very exciting. It was good to see how proud he was of me, and to prove to him that I’ve made it. That I’m through that tunnel, so to speak, and that I’m making progress to becoming my own man.”

Staff Writer Rachel Lenzi can be reached at 791-6415 or at:

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