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Inside the GameLloyd Percival wrote the book on hockey fitness

Posted: Thursday, December 19, 2013 | 08:00 AM

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Lloyd Percival, who penned The Hockey Handbook in 1951, was the director/host of Sports College on the Air on CBC Radio. (Classic Auctions) Lloyd Percival, who penned The Hockey Handbook in 1951, was the director/host of Sports College on the Air on CBC Radio. (Classic Auctions)

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A new book about fitness guru Lloyd Percival details the impact he had and still has on Canadian athletes nearly 40 years after his passing.

Long before there were strength and conditioning gurus in hockey like Andy O'Brien, T.R. Goodman and Gary Roberts, there was Lloyd Percival.

Percival, who passed away at age 61 in July 1974, was much more than a fitness coach for hockey players. He guided top Canadian athletes in all sports.

His clientele list was a who's who of Canadian sport. First, through his CBC Radio program, Sports College on the Air, and later through his training facilities called The Fitness Institute, some of those schooled by Percival included: George Chuvalo, Kathy Kreiner, Gordie Howe, George Knudson, Jocelyn Lovell, Jim Day as well as Sandra Bezic. The list goes on and on.

But why bring up Percival now, especially when training elite-level and everyday athletes has become so sophisticated, so advanced and such a big business?


Well, a new book from Canadian author Gary Mossman recently has been released about Percival's life. Entitled Lloyd Percival: Coach and Visionary, this intriguing tome details just how much influence Percival had and still has on the way athletes train in this country almost four decades after his death.

Also, with the Sochi Olympics less than seven weeks away, it should be noted the important role Percival played in how swiftly Russian hockey evolved more than 50 years ago. Percival's book, The Hockey Handbook, gave Anatoli Tarasov, known as the father of Soviet hockey, a proverbial bible to teach and guide his players to international success.

The impact of this book on Soviet hockey has led some to joke that Percival was the stepfather of Russian hockey. But The Hockey Handbook also heavily influenced the development of national programs in then Czechoslovakia, Sweden and Finland.

It was Mossman's father who introduced Percival's story to the author. One of the many narratives Mossman unearthed was an interesting story that transpired during the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviets.

As the series developed, Phil Esposito and Co. grew to appreciate the strengths of their opponents, especially the talent of Soviet goalkeeper Vladislav Tretiak.

They saw Tretiak in the hallways at the different rinks working on his reflexes and coordination by bouncing and catching tennis balls against the wall in a bang-bang manner.

This just happened to be a drill that Percival wrote about and prescribed to Detroit Red Wings goalie Terry Sawchuk. Now most goalies employ the "wall-ball drill" in their training.

Sawchuk, in fact, benefited from Percival's training in the early 1950s, when he was hired to work with the Red Wings.

"Percival found it more difficult to convince Sawchuk that his agility and coordination would improve even more if he shed some of his 200 pounds," wrote Mossman. "Neither was Detroit's management overly concerned about Sawchuk's weight until he reported to training camp in September 1951 weighing 219 pounds.

"[Red Wings owner Jack] Adams immediately ordered his goaltender to go on a diet prescribed by Percival. Ten weeks later, Sawchuk weighed 193 pounds. By season's end, his weight had reached 170-175 pounds, the level at which he would remain for most of his career.

"In 1951-52, Terry Sawchuk produced possibly the single greatest season ever enjoyed by a goaltender."

'Stood the test of time'

Percival's ideas and methods weren't accepted by all in the hockey community. But he did later gain the acceptance and credit he deserved.

"I believe The Hockey Handbook, written by Lloyd Percival and first published in 1951, remains the authoritative source for hockey fundamentals," said longtime Carolina Hurricanes athletic therapist Peter Friesen, who was given a copy of the book by coach Dave King in 1980.

"It is my view that the training regimens that Percival developed based on those fundamentals have stood the test of time."

Even Don Cherry had praise for Percival in the book. He remembers listening to the fitness guru on his radio show.

"Every Saturday at 12:15, when we were young lads, my mother made sausages and toast for my brother and me and we listened to 'Ace' Percival on Sports College," Cherry said.

Follow Tim Wharnsby on Twitter @WharnsbyCBC

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