There was a belief shared by many, particularly in Canada, that the Soviet machine was ready to have its plug pulled at the ice hockey tournament for the 1988 Winter Olympic Games to be held in Calgary.
The Soviet Union, after all, had failed to win the 1987 IIHF World Championships in Vienna; this marked the second time in three years the USSR did not win the annual IIHF event. The USSR also later fell in the finals at the 1987 Canada Cup. Significantly, the Soviet Union then lost their annual Izvestia Cup, often referred to as the Olympic dress rehearsal, just before the Christmas holiday season to end the year, as well.
With the Winter Games now open to professionals and amateurs alike, there was much speculation that Calgary could spell the end of the line for Soviet domination of Olympic ice hockey.
A mere five goals in their opening game against traiditional minnows Norway seemed to lend credibility to theories detailing the decline of the USSR. The fact that the West Germans hung tough for fifty minutes and the Americans pulled back from 6-2 down to draw within a goal late did little to dispell such notions about the Soviet Union during the round-robin phase of the Calgary Games, either.
But then came the Soviets’ final round-robin match against their old Eastern-bloc arch-rivlas, the Czechoslovaks, and, with such, a return-to-normalcy appeared to arrive at the Olympic ice hockey competition.
The USSR comfortably skated past Czechoslovakia 6-1 and then moved into the medal round to face host nation Canada. With thirteen players on the roster bearing NHL experience, the Canadians were fostering hopes of a medal at the Olympics for the first time in twenty years. In part due to the 5-0 shutout defeat issued by the Soviets, Canada’s wait would continue.
The Soviets lost no games in Vienna but still finished second to Sweden, who actually lost three games at the 1987 Worlds. For the medal round match involving the two countries at Calgary, retribution was clearly on somebody’s mind as evidenced by the 7-1 scoreline favoring the USSR.
Although another game with Finland remained for the Soviet Union, the final standings were now academic — the USSR could not be caught in the race for the gold medal.