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