Zaugg: Norway’s marathon man

Canadian-born assistant coach George Kingston has seen it all

11.05.2008
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The Norwegians try to unleash the power of the polar bear. Photo: IIHF/HHoF/Jukka Rautio

QUEBEC CITY – George Kingston is truly a man who knows no limits.

Even the mighty Team Canada has gotten taste of Kingston’s hockey wisdom. The Canadians were pushed to their limits as they eked out a 2-1 win over Norway on Thursday.

Kingston is one of the most widely traveled and experienced coaches in the world of international hockey today. And since Dave King isn’t taking part in the 2008 IIHF World Championship, this veteran marathon runner has also been running through the world of hockey longer than anyone else in this tournament.

Currently, he’s an assistant coach with Norway.

But he is far more than just an assistant. In many ways, he’s like a Mr. Fix-It for the Norwegian hockey program. He’s been invaluable in developing the strategies and game plans and helping his team to one of its best performances ever on this level. Some highlights include an overtime loss to the Finns and, of course, the big 3-2 win over the Germans to get into the Qualifying Round.

Kingston (who has no relationship to the famous Kingston Trio of Bob Shane, Nick Reynolds and Dave Guard) made his debut as a head coach at the IIHF World Championship back in 1990 in Berne with Norway. He came very close to staging one of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament. Kingston’s team steamrolled the Germans 7-3 on April 25. In their final Relegation Round game on May 1, they needed just a loss by less than four goals to survive in the second game versus the Germans.

They lost 4-0 and were relegated.

So the 3-2 win over Germany in Halifax offered some revenge for Kingston after an 18-year wait.

His history with other teams is also eye-popping.

Kingston guided Team Canada to its first world title since 1961 at the 1994 tournamennt in Italy. He coached Team Germany from 1995 to 1998, an adventure which ended in relegation. He was also the first head coach in the history of the San Jose Sharks, and later served as an assistant with Atlanta and Florida.

Really, a picture of George Kingston would be the perfect accompaniment for the term "hockey man" in an encyclopedia. The 69-year-old native of Biggar, Saskatchewan has a passion for the game, but can also see the big picture from a global perspective. Maybe he is too much of a free thinker to be really successful in the NHL’s day-to-day coaching rat race, to go through all the power struggles required to build a Stanley Cup-winning team or just to keep a job.

Kingston is a good example for Canadians who are helping to develop hockey all over the world. Of course, the Europeans have learned a lot, and do better today in many aspects, especially with their youth programs. But there is still this feeling for the game only Canadians have.

The way Kingston sees the game, analyzes players, and talks about hockey, he reminds me a lot of Dave King. But in terms of his handling of the players, he might be a little bit softer than King.

It’s been a long road for George Kingston, but he’s learned how to survive.

KLAUS ZAUGG

Klaus Zaugg is a Swiss hockey journalist who has covered the IIHF World Championship since 1981. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the official views of the IIHF.

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