Harvard-Radcliffe Class of 1964
Gene Kinasewich, 63, who died of cancer Wednesday in Newton-Wellesley Hospital, was a soft-spoken Canadian orphan who became one of the most celebrated student-athletes in the history of Harvard University. His overtime goal against Boston College to win the ECAC hockey championship in 1963 is the stuff of legend.
"Hockey gave me something hundreds of boys in Canada would want if they knew about it -- an education at Harvard," Mr. Kinasewich said at a dinner in 1964 for the Friends of Harvard Hockey. "Harvard has given me a life."
It didn't come easy.
The second-youngest of 13 children of Ukrainian immigrants, Mr. Kinasewich was raised in Thorsby, Canada. Both his mother and father died when he was 10.
"It was hard, but it would have been a lot harder if we weren't a big family that stuck together," Mr. Kinasewich said in a story published in the Globe in 1964.
By the time he was 13, he was selling newspapers and running errands for a grocery. He also played a lot of hockey. He played with his older brothers and on an Edmonton team sponsored by the Detroit Red Wings, which paid him some expense money over a two-year stretch.
College was something he never gave a thought to until one of his brothers spoke to a Harvard scout. When he was asked if he'd like to go to Harvard, he asked where it was.
He attended Deerfield Academy for a year to prepare himself before he was accepted to Harvard, although the Ivy league declared him ineligible to play hockey for a year because of the money he had accepted.
The following year, he was ruled ineligible by the Eastern College Athletic Conference. Harvard fought the decision and Mr. Kinasewich testified in a highly publicized hearing in New York that the $1,122 he received over two years from the Red Wings was just for living expenses. During his testimony, he was asked if he would like a cup of coffee, and he insisted on paying for it himself. After his earnest testimony, the ECAC reversed itself and restored his eligibility to play.
The decision allowed him to return to the rink and set up his spectacular three-goal performance at the ECAC Hockey championship in 1963.
"His skates never touched the ice for two nights . . . he was flying," said Snooks Kelley, the coach of the Boston College team that lost the championship game.
"He was one of the most amazing men I've ever met," said Tim Taylor, a former teammate and current coach of the Yale hockey team. "He was all about helping others, not looking out for himself."
Mr. Kinasewich also earned a master's degree and doctorate in education at Harvard.
He later taught American history at Buckingham, Browne and Nichols School. He worked for a year for the state Department of Education and was a dean at Harvard for a time before moving back to Edmonton to help expand the family business, K-Bro (Kinasewich Brothers) Linen Systems, a hospital laundry service.
"He would have made a great president of an educational institution if he hadn't moved back home to help out," said his friend John Gummere, of Concord, N.H.
Mr. Kinasewich moved back to the Boston area after his retirement in 1997 and had been living in Newton.
For the past several years, he was a sponsor of a hockey exchange program with Ukrainian and North American youth.
His advice to young players, according to his son, Robert, of Sandwich, was, "If you don't know what to do, put it in the goal."
Mr. Kinasewich continued to play hockey until about three years ago with the Bombers Hockey Club in Gloucester, a team for older players. "He never lost his competitiveness," said Tom "Red" Mechem of Gloucester, a member of the team. "But that's not what he'll be remembered for. No matter whether you were on the fourth line or the first, he treated everybody the same. That's why he was so loved."
In addition to his son, he leaves a daughter, Tanya Kinasewich of Duxbury; another son, Gregory of Duxbury; his former wife, Janet Mittell Kinasewich of Cambridge; eight siblings, Anne, William, Stephanie, Nicholas, Michael, Raymond, Orest, and Robert; and two grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. March 19 in Memorial Church at Harvard.