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Kingston riding to Norway's rescue

by John McGourty

George Kingston has a history with Ole Jacob Libaek, the head of the Norwegian Ice Hockey Federation.
George Kingston has gone back to Norway.

And just in time, too.

Although Kingston is too gracious to say it, he's returning to advise the Norwegian national hockey program because it's in rebellion.

The head of the Norwegian Ice Hockey Federation was replaced earlier this year and the former head, Ole Jacob Libaek, has returned. Kingston worked with Libaek for two seasons, 1989-91, to prepare the team for the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France. Libaek lost power back then and Kingston accepted the head-coaching position with the expansion San Jose Sharks the next season.

Libaek returned to power this summer and sought out Kingston again.

It's fair to say Norwegian hockey is in disarray. Top players threatened to boycott the 2010 Olympic team if changes weren't made. Players and coaches objected to the preparations for the 2007 World Championships. The team arrived in Budapest for a game against the Hungarian national team and found that no hotel rooms had been reserved. A skimpy food allotment had to be rationed at the next stop in Belarus. Officials weren't sure of the locations of games there. Some players realized they needlessly flew to central Europe when they discovered visa applications hadn't been filed.

That's over now. Libaek is in charge. Roy Johansen remains coach of the national team and Kingston will consult at all levels of play in Norway.

He's well qualified. After successfully coaching high-school sports, Kingston had a long run, actually three runs, as hockey coach at the University of Alberta from 1968-1988, with two sabbaticals. Kingston also spent nearly eight years working with the 1988 Calgary Olympic Committee and was named the tournament chairman.

The Norwegians wanted their team to play in the Olympic championship round at Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994, so they hired Kingston to get the team ready and to oversee preparations of the hockey facilities there.

"I had taken a sabbatical from the University of Calgary and consulted with the Canadian national team for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary," Kingston said. "We needed to sell the International Ice Hockey Federation on Calgary so I was very active talking to other federations. My job was to influence delegates, no kickbacks, just convince them Calgary would be a great host.

"I talked to Libaek in Calgary in 1988 and he was in New York a year later. I was with the Minnesota North Stars as an assistant coach and he flew out to meet me," Kingston continued. "The next day, he offered me the job of sports director, helping him get the volunteer committees up and running. Not just hockey, all sports. I was also responsible for the men's hockey team and the national junior team.

"My wife, Wendy, and I really enjoyed it, but we left when Libaek got voted out of office. My concern was that there wouldn't be the dynamic leadership to get sufficient funding and training time and that's what happened. Norway has a history of doing better in the individual sports. We had pretty good success with the men's team, but the best team effort was in women's handball.

"We needed an aggressive program for Norway to be competitive and it was disappointing to me. I didn't stay through the Olympics."

Kingston had worked with Jack Ferreira in Calgary and Minnesota and accepted the Sharks GM's offer to coach the expansion club. The team naturally struggled in its first two years and Kingston was done after going 28-129-7.

"I joined Hockey Canada as director of hockey operations at Lillehammer and we won the silver medal when Peter Forsberg got the shootout goal for Sweden. I was thrilled at how well everyone hosted and made the games special, but I felt bad for the Norwegian hockey team. They deserved better because they were good people who didn't get the resources and training time for their own Olympics. If Libaek had stayed, they would have had better results."

Kingston coached the German national team for a couple years and then returned to the NHL as an assistant coach with the Atlanta Thrashers and Florida Panthers.

"In Oslo, I'll be working with Marit Breivik and Jarle Aambo, who head the high-performance sports center in Norway," Kingston said. "My job is loosely defined, but we'll work on team dynamics, team play and ways to build better teams. We have to remedy what the Norwegians see as deficiencies in their teams. They know they have great individual performers, but they want their teams to be better. We met for five days in August and I thought it went very well.

"I'll also be getting the men's and women's teams ready for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. The men are closer to being competitive. I'm there to support all levels of hockey and be a mentor and help in the development of coaches and players."


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