2019 oohic george kingston

Learning his way through life

Armed with a thirst for practical and academic knowledge, George Kingston has studied and taught hockey across Canada and around the world

Paul Edmonds
June 18, 2019

There might not be a more cosmopolitan coach in the history of Canadian hockey. If there is, George Kingston has few peers.

From Atlanta to San Jose in the National Hockey League and from Norway to Mexico internationally, the 79-year-old has coached, tutored, advised and instructed in the game for over a half century.

But his personal knowledge and wisdom extends beyond hockey. He’s also worldly and cultured and has spent a career – and most of his life – conjugating both.

For example, in 1971 in a quest to understand how the Russians were training and coaching their hockey athletes, he packed up his young family and motored around the Communist nation at the height of the Cold War. They did it for five months in a Volkswagen van and it was an enlightening experience for Kingston – a first-hand tutorial on how the Russians were advancing the game both on and off the ice.

“The impetus was for me to travel to understand the values transmitted through sport with different hockey-playing nations,” says Kingston. “I’ve always had a social science bent in the direction I took my studies.”

The trip took place just prior to 1972 Summit Series, an eight-game set between Canada and the Soviet Union that was filled with excitement, drama and political undercurrents.

“I’m a farm boy with a curiosity,” he admits. “And the Soviets at that time were absolutely the best in the world.”

Born in Biggar, Sask., a town about an hour west of Saskatoon, Kingston’s father perished in a farming accident when he was just a toddler. The tragedy left his mother to essentially rear him under the roof of her parents and siblings near The Battlefords.

It was a loving and educational pioneering home that taught him to be proud, tough and independent and with it, the value of sport and education through athletics. His grandparents were extremely influential during this period.

After his mother remarried, the family moved to Edmonton where he was deeply influenced by two high school teachers and coaches: Clare Drake and Murray Smith.

By his own admission, Kingston considered himself a “decent” athlete at hockey, baseball, basketball, and track and field. It was at this point where both aforementioned coaches shaped him the most.

“Their presence is with me all the time,” says Kingston, who followed both men to the University of Alberta where he began his extensive post-secondary studies.

“It was a whole vista of a different approach,” recalls Kingston. “Until that time all I had ever heard was negative forms of motivation: fear, threats, guilt, isolation and intimidation.”

Looking back on Kingston’s coaching career is a deeply rich review. In 1967, he joined the University of Calgary men’s hockey team as an assistant.

The following year he took over the Dinos program and served as head coach for the next 16 years, posting a 245–128 record and leading Calgary to five Canada West championships.

During two of those seasons he simultaneously worked as an assistant coach with the NHL’s Calgary Flames and over his collegiate career began an association with Hockey Canada at the same time.

This included three stints aiding Team Canada at the Olympic Games – assisting with the preparation of the 1980 and 1988 teams, and as an assistant coach in 1984 – and another as general manager in 1994.

“As a player you play the game,” says Kingston. “But to really understand the game – when you start to teach it – you realize how little you know and how much there is to know. My journey was to find out the know.

He departed university hockey for good in 1988-89 for an assistant coaching job with the Minnesota North Stars. It was a position he assumed for only one season before moving overseas to coach the Norwegian national teams for two years.

He returned to North America in 1991 to become the first-ever coach of the expansion San Jose Sharks. But after two seasons in the Bay Area he was back with Hockey Canada and directed the nation to a gold medal at the 1994 worlds in Italy – ending a 33-year drought.

Over the next four years Kingston coached in Germany and returned to the NHL in 1999 for stops in Atlanta and Florida again as an NHL assistant up until 2007.

However, it was on the international scene that he truly spread and continued to absorb his wealthy hockey knowledge.

“I appreciate sharing hockey information,” says Kingston, who celebrates 58 years of marriage to Wendy this year. “I’ve learned more than I think I’ve contributed. I’ve been so fortunate to have so many experiences with so many people.”

Since 2007, Kingston has exclusively coached abroad. Over that time he returned to Norway to instruct and teach, while exporting his acumen to fill coaching and consulting roles with other hockey developing nations like Mexico and Lithuania in both hockey and para hockey capacities – and sometimes both.

“I’m actually surprised that I’ve been considered for this award in Canada because I’ve spent so much of my hockey life internationally,” he says of receiving the Order of Hockey in Canada.

“I’m fiercely Canadian, but I’m also very respectful of other nations and their journeys in hockey and what we can learn from them.”

Aside from hockey, Kingston is also an avid runner and enthusiast in areas like anthropology and archeology.

He’s participated in ultra-marathons and augmented his hockey travel by globetrotting on vacation to unique locations.

Trips to Africa, China, base camp at Mount Everest with daughter Erin, and recently a sojourn with his son, Kevin, to Machu Picchu, Peru to explore the Lost City of the Incas have checked some wanderlust boxes.

That pioneering spirit has always existed in Kingston, a characteristic he’s proudly transitioned into hockey at the grassroots level, too.

One of his areas of focus and effort as a mentor, clinician and administrator over the last several decades has been to transition the game at the minor hockey level to improve the ratio of practice time to games and in the realm of small-area hockey and skill development.

“The game is going in the direction I had hoped,” he says. “That philosophy is there in most places now.”

Kingston considers himself “lucky” over his career and will continue to be involved in the game for as long as his health will allow and truly spends little time looking back at his accomplishments.

“I don’t really reflect,” he says. “I’m an activist. I can only reflect and say how fortunate I’ve been. My health is still good. And in the lottery of life I’ve been very fortunate.

“To celebrate (the Order of Hockey in Canada) with so many people that were profound on me is very special. It’s wonderful to be able to celebrate with so many people that were influential in my life and career.”

Among them, Kingston has few peers.

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

[email protected] 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

[email protected]

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

[email protected]

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