Percy Nicklin holds a unique place in the history of the sport, coaching Great Britain to their one and only Winter Olympic gold medal in 1936, when the squad also carried off the World and European titles – a feat known as The Triple Crown. He also achieved club success with the Harringay teams that won a sideboard of silverware during his years as the driving force behind the sport in the magnificent Harringay Arena.
Nicklin was recruited from his native Canada to be the coach of Richmond Hawks in the first season of the English National League in 1935-36 on the basis of his success with his team in Moncton, New Brunswick. Also known as the Hawks, they had won the Allan Cup, emblematic of Canadian senior hockey supremacy, in 1933 and 1934.
A strict but fair disciplinarian, his use of defensive tactics was so effective that underdogs Richmond finished the campaign as runners-up, tied on points with the winners, Wembley Lions, one of the league favourites, who played in front of three times as many fans.
Meanwhile, he had barely settled in at the club before it became clear to the governing BIHA that here was a man who really knew how to coach. They quickly persuaded him to mentor Britain’s national team as they prepared for a tilt at the Olympics which were due to be held in Bavaria the following February.
His remarkable success with GB was again achieved with a defensive system, based on sound netminding and back-checking forwards. A big rugged defenceman himself, he was a thinker about the game, basing his coaching strategy on the theory that if the other team can’t score on you then the worst that can happen is that you tie the game.
His choice in goal was Jimmy Foster, who had played for him in Moncton and stayed with him at Richmond and Harringay. With the addition of a couple of talented home-based players, GB duly pulled off the biggest shock in ice hockey history to that date, winning five of their seven Winter Olympic encounters and drawing two in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, pushing perennial champs Canada into second place.
Canada got their revenge in the next two championships but with more home-grown talent replacing some of their British-Canadians, Nicklin’s men completed a hat-trick of European titles.
Back in the league, the small Richmond rink could not hold such a talent and when the 8,200-seat state-of-the-art Harringay Arena opened for the 1936-37 season he was snatched away to coach both their teams, the Racers and the Greyhounds (even in games between the sides, according to the match-night programme!). With him at the helm, Harringay dominated the league in the years immediately prior to World War Two, winning won three league titles in succession.
Returning after the war as general manager of the teams and the arena, his shrewd recruiting of players and coaches ensured that Harringay continued to enjoy hockey success. Though the Greyhounds folded after three seasons, the Racers won two
more league crowns and the Autumn Cup four times. Only the sport’s cessation there in 1958 brought the fine run to a halt.
Percy’s later life was overshadowed by the tragic loss of his only son Jeff, a Lieutenant-Colonel in the First Canadian Parachute Battalion, who was killed in action in March 1945. An outstanding defensive end for the Grey Cup-winning Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League, he is commemorated by the Jeff Nicklin Memorial Trophy, which is still awarded annually to the MVP of the CFL’s West Division.
Percy Harold Nicklin was born in Midland, Simcoe County, Ontario on 9 May 1893. In 1970 he was inducted into the New Brunswick Hall of Fame and in 1988 he was inducted into Britain’s Hall of Fame. He died in Harringay, north London in ‘spring 1973’.