A Canadian wrote a hockey training manual. In 1972 the Soviets used it to beat us at our own game
Summit 72 is a four-part documentary series that tells the definitive story of the legendary 1972 Canada-USSR hockey summit series. Watch on CBC Gem now.
On September 2, 1972, the Canadians were stunned when the Soviet Union beat Team Canada 7-3 in Game 1 of the Summit Series on the hallowed ice of the Montreal Forum. The story is told in Summit 72a four-part documentary series.
A Canadian hockey visionary named Lloyd Percival was one of the few who saw defeat coming. He knew how good the Soviet team was – and why.
Growing up in Toronto in the 1920s, Percival excelled at cricket, tennis, boxing and, of course, hockey. Head coach at just 18, Percival led Toronto’s National Sea Fleas midget team to an undefeated season in 1932. He traveled extensively throughout the United States and Britain, seeking all the wisdom training and fitness instruction he could get from professionals outside of Canada. In 1944, Percival had a hit CBC radio show called athletic college, where he shared what he had learned with his fellow Canadians. The success of the radio show led him to write two very important books: How to play hockey betterand Perceval’s most famous work, The Hockey Handbook.
Watch Lloyd Percival discuss the dominance of Russian hockey in a 1968 broadcast of The Day It Is.
Meanwhile, behind the Iron Curtain, the Soviet Union was focused on achieving success at the highest level of international sport, believing that if the world saw they had the best athletes, it would prove their way of life was superior. to that of the West. One of the main sports targeted by the Soviet Union was hockey. Their cold climate and a popular game called bandy – which is similar to hockey, but with football nets and field hockey sticks – meant there was an existing base they could build on.
Anatoly Tarasov, a man who would become the “Father of Russian Hockey”, was responsible for building the hockey program. Tarasov was as passionate a student as he was a teacher, reading all the sports and fitness literature he could find, including The Hockey Handbookwhich he would have dubbed “the bible of hockey”.
We can never know exactly how much Percival’s instructional book influenced Tarasov and Russian hockey, but there were many striking similarities between the two men’s approaches. Percival believed that hatred and anger had no place in hockey and would hurt the player’s skill. “The best competitive attitude is a playful ‘happy warrior’ doing his best, playing with total abandon,” he wrote..
Tarasov seems to have translated this into his own coaching style. Early Soviet black-and-white films show him playfully yelling at his young players, “Where’s the smile? You’re playing hockey!”
But it wasn’t just the attitude of the player, Percival was also a conditioning visionary. As early as the 1950s, he had the audacity to suggest that athletes consume light pre-game meals, such as fruit and yogurt, instead of the traditional steak and potatoes still popular in 1972. The no -fitness conformist was even bold enough to suggest that smoking was bad for you. Rather than exploring Percival’s method, the Canadians would have mocked the Soviets for things like drinking mineral water and getting up at 6 a.m. to run around their hotel.
In August 1972, when training camps opened for the Canadian team of NHL players, the Soviets were miles ahead. They had even started training on Eastern Standard Time a month before flying to Montreal.
The Soviets adopted an inventive style of play with a heavy emphasis on passing – only shooting if you had a good chance to score. They played in five-man units, turning around to regroup, which left players, coaches, fans and the Canadian media perplexed. Everything except Percival, of course. He recognized their style as it closely resembled his own teachings in both How to play hockey better and The Hockey Handbook.
After the Game 1 loss in Montreal, it was clear that Canada’s tactics needed to evolve. By Game 6 in Moscow, Canada’s head coach Harry Sinden had already begun to adapt his team’s play against the Soviet forwards.
“Harry improvised the last three games, he changed the whole style that we played in North America and went to another area,” said 1972 Team Canada defenseman Dale Tallon in the Summit 72 documentary series. “Instead of the wingers checking the D, he knocked both wingers down and got the centerer up high because we couldn’t control them on the big ice down below when they got past us. It was Harry who did found this solution and it really worked.”
Less than two months earlier, Sinden had responded to Percival’s offer to help, “let the pros do it.” But Sinden deserves credit for acknowledging that the pros needed new tactics. Twenty-six days after a stunning home defeat, Team Canada secured a miraculous win in Moscow with just 34 seconds remaining on the clock. But it would be decades before Canadian sport appropriated Percival’s renegade ideas about fitness testing and nutrition, many of which are now standard practice in all sports.
During the Cold War years, when many nations focused on themselves, trying to outplay their adversaries, Percival and Tarasov stood out because they dared to look outward, to keep learning from what the everyone could teach them. In the writings of the Canadian and in the coaching of the Russian, we see open minds and an insatiable curiosity about how to play a better game of hockey, with lessons that would benefit generations of players to come.
Watch Summit 72 on CBC Gem.