SIHR’s Behind the Boards

Lloyd Percival and Soviet Hockey (Part 2)

SIHR’s Behind the Boards


Lloyd Percival and Soviet Hockey (Part 2)

Marcel Lang
Posted March 19, 2021

Viewed 683 times

In March 1953, Stan Obodiac handed Anatoli Tarasov a book by Lloyd Percival. It's not clear whether the book was How to Play Better Hockey or The Hockey Handbook and how much of it Tarasov was able to translate. What we do know is that six months later, Tarasov implemented a new training routine with the Soviet national team:

Tarasov, for the first time in the history of Soviet hockey, put the team under a regime of training twice a day (…) Actually, the head coach didn't just introduce two workouts, but three workouts. The morning began with ice skating drills which lasted 40-50 minutes. Then the main training took place from 12 to 14 o'clock. And one more full-fledged            training session was held from 19 to 21 o'clock. [1]

It's tempting to suspect Tarasov might have been inspired by Percival's book, even if the rigour of the workouts was undoubtedly his own doing. The players didn't react well to the unfamiliar strain, but Tarasov kept pushing them – in spite of warnings by assistant coach Vladimir Yegorov. By November 1953, the team was so exhausted and demoralized that the Soviet hockey federation decided to relieve the head coach of his duties. Tarasov was replaced by Arkadi Chernyshov, who – together with Vladimir Yegorov – proceeded to guide the team to victory at the 1954 World Championship. Tarasov, on his part, remained head coach of the Army club and waited for another chance with the national team.

In 1955, two years after Tarasov had been handed the book, Lloyd Percival received a letter from Nikolai Ozolin, director of the State Central Institute of Physical Culture in Moscow:

The letter says the institute had been made aware of Percival's research into physical conditioning and says, in part: „We would be glad to establish contact and scientific interchange with you.“ [2]

 

Percival was happy to comply. In the same year, 500 copies of his Hockey Handbook were shipped from New York to Moscow [3]. In Russia, the leading sports publisher Fizkultura i sport commissioned a translation. Five of the original eight chapters were included: „Scoring Goals“, „Carrying the Puck“, „Offensive Strategy and Tactics“, „Defensive Strategy and Tactics“ and „Goalkeeping“. Three chapters were left out: „Skating“, „Practice Organization and Coaching Technique“ and „Training“. A lengthy foreword by Anatoli Tarasov was added. The title of the shortened Russian edition was Khokkey („Hockey“). In November 1956, the manuscript was handed in for typesetting. Printing started in February 1957.

Khokkey, the abbreviated Russian edition of The Hockey Handbook

Khokkey, the abbreviated Russian edition of The Hockey Handbook.

 

Tarasov's preface introduces Percival as a „well-known expert within the hockey circles“ of North America and notes that he was once a consultant to an NHL club, Detroit Red Wings. Tarasov says that the book contains „all the latest and the best“ that the Canadian school of hockey has assembled and he highlights the opportunity for Soviet players and coaches to get acquainted with the Canadian way of playing. Throughout the preface, he keeps acknowledging the mastery of the Canadians. Chapter 1: „Canadian players have reached high mastery when it comes to making shots on goal.“ Chapter 2: „We know Canadian players as skillful masters of stickhandling.“ Chapter 3: „In Canada, a hockey player is subject to very high and versatile requirements.“ Chapter 4: „There is a lot of originality in the defensive tactics of the Canadians.“ Chapter 5: „The art of hockey goalkeeping has been mastered brilliantly by many athletes in Canada.“ Thirteen years after handing in this preface, Tarasov would send the following message to Lloyd Percival: „Your wonderful book which introduced us to the mysteries of Canadian hockey I have read like a schoolboy. Thank you for a hockey science which is significant to world hockey.“ [4]

Motivated by an „ardent desire to contribute something to world hockey“ himself, Tarasov delivers critical remarks on Percival's teachings – remarks he hopes will be interesting not only for his Soviet audience, but also for foreign readers.

The longest part of Tarasov's preface is dedicated to Percival's chapter „Scoring Goals“. Percival is recognized as having described the various scoring options with „great expertise“ and a „creative understanding of the essence“ of hockey. In particular, Tarasov recommends the sections „Screen shots“, „Follow your shot“ and „Scrambles“. However, numerous other sections are subject to criticism. Among other things, Tarasov rejects the emphasis on shooting from optimal range and urges players to shoot unexpectedly from a variety of positions. Players should be encouraged to be daring and try out new things during the game instead of following a formula. Tarasov also objects to Percival's preference for the long „sweep shot“ and recommends the slap shot and the snap shot. He outlines differences between Russian teachings and Percival's descriptions of the technique for various shots.

His remarks on the chapter „Carrying the puck“ are much shorter. He says that the Soviets have „a lot to learn from the Canadians when it comes to stickhandling techniques“ and commends Percival for demonstrating the role of stickhandling and for putting „a lot of fantasy“ in the drills, some of which he singles out as „difficult and at the same time very useful and new for us“. He calls for Soviet coaches to pay more attention to stickhandling and urges the players to „learn to use these techniques at the level of our best stickhandling masters“. One of the few criticisms towards Percival: Tarasov would rather discuss „timely passes“ than „fast passes“. The latter are not always useful, he says: sometimes the situation on the ice calls for a delay.

 Percival's obstacle course in Russian

Percival's obstacle course in Russian.

 

The notes on the chapter „Offensive tactics“ are more extensive again and provide some fundamental insights into Tarasov's philosophy. First off, Percival is afforded praise for his „creativity“, his „great knowledge“ and his „good psychological analysis“. In line with Tarasov's appreciation of the section „Follow your shot“ in the first chapter, he now recommends the section „Following the puck in“ and urges Soviet players to develop the habit of moving in on the net once a shot on goal was made. His following critique of Percival addresses some key questions. Tarasov stresses that it isn't the puck-carrier who is the „conductor of the attack“ – instead, the four other players are responsible for creating passing options for him and make him succeed. Tarasov also speaks out against what he calls universalism in hockey. Examples are the very active role of the Canadian defenders in the attack and Percival's suggestion to use forwards on the point during the man advantage. For Tarasov, the Soviet game was based on specialization, not universalization. However, tthe topic kept being discussed controversely in Soviet hockey circles and over the following decade, Tarasov's own view on using forwards as point players wouldn't remain unchanged.

Concerning the chapter „Defensive tactics“, Tarasov notes that the Canadian school uses two main weapons: physical play and individual coverage. He concedes that the Canadians are hard to score on and that the Soviets „need more physical play as one mean of winning the puck“. At the same time, he warns Soviet coaches „against copying everything“ in the book. He says the Soviet defense combines „individual coverage with zonal play“ in order to faciliate counterattacks and he warns against excessive physical play.

Tarasov's remarks on the chapter „Goalkeeping“ contain more approval of drills proposed by Percival and criticism of specific recommendations, for example on the basic stance of the goaltender. Tarasov also dismisses the idea that the goaltender should try to remember the habits of all dangerous scoring players as unrealistic and unneccessary, arguing that one and the same attacker often shoots unexpectedly and from varying positions.

The chapters „Skating“, „Practice Organization and Coaching Technique“ and „Training“ weren't included in the publication, but that doesn't necessarily mean they didn't have an impact. While Tarasov's own book from 1950, Khokkey s shayboy, already contained a year-round training program with extensive dry-land exercises, it did not cover nutrition – one of Percival's favourite topics and one the Soviets would later pay great attention to. Skating drills weren't included either: in 1950, Tarasov merely described basic requirements for skating in hockey. By autumn 1953, however, he made the Soviet national team go through extensive skating drills.

 Illustrations of the portable insert goal. Left: from the Russian edition of the Hockey Handbook. Right: from Sportivnye igry.

Illustrations of the portable insert goal. Left: from the Russian edition of the Hockey Handbook. Right: from Sportivnye igry.

The impact of the Hockey Handbook in Russia wasn't restricted to Anatoli Tarasov, but specific traces of influence are hard to uncover. One of the few examples of Lloyd Percival being cited by name in the Soviet Union is an unsigned article from the January 1959 edition of Sportivne igry [5], perhaps authored by Sergei Savin, the former president of the Soviet hockey federation who was a member of the magazine's editorial board. The article advertised the portable insert goal from the Hockey Handbook for shooting practice, explained how the Canadians used it and – erroneously – called Percival „one of the leading coaches of the Canadian-American professional hockey league“.

Acknowledgment: Thanks to Stephen Smith, Donald C. Murray, Jim Genac and Jonathon Jackson for their help.

 

[1] Anatoli Salutsky, Vsevolod Bobrov (1987), 133
[2] Ottawa Journal, December 10, 1968, 23
[3] Gary Mossman, Lloyd Percival: Coach and Visionary (2013), 71
[4] Dated December 27, 1969. From The Globe and Mail, September 16, 1972, 39
[5] Sportivnye igry, January 1959, 25

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