The 1972 Winter Olympics were held in Sapporo, Japan. Sapporo had previously been awarded the 1940 Winter Olympics, but of course World War II cancelled the Games. Sapporo defeated Banff, Salt Lake City and Lahti, Finland for the rights to hold the 1972 Games.
Canada misses their first Olympics with their international hockey boycott due to hypocrisy over amateurism in international sport. Also missing these Olympics were France, Romania and East Germany, all of whom had qualified but withdrew due to high expenses.
With Canada absent, the Soviets rolled to the gold medal with great confidence. Soviet coach Anatoli Tarasov even experimented with his well oiled machine by separating the great troika of Valery Kharlamov, Boris Mikhailov and Vladimir Petrov. Instead he experimented with a revolutionary 2-2-1 system with 2 forwards, two mid-fielders (for the lack of a better hockey term) and one defender.
The Soviets also debuted their ace in the hole - Vladislav Tretiak. Tretiak had previously played at the 1970 and 1971 world championships, but this would be his first of four Olympics. 1972 would be his first of three gold medals. Despite his early success, he was still unknown. That would change drastically a few months after the Olympics at a little international tournament you may have heard of - the 1972 Summit Series.
Czechoslovakia was expected to challenge for gold, but found themselves with the bronze medal. A spunky American hockey team surprised many with a silver medal podium finish. The American team featured Mark Howe, the teenaged son of the great Gordie Howe. His familial status made him a star attraction off the ice, but he was a little too young to make much of an impact on it. That was left to some pretty decent players in the likes of Robbie Ftorek, Henry Boucha, Tim Sheehy and goaltender Mike Curran.
Sweden, Finland and Poland rounded out group A, the grouping of countries with medal hopes. West Germany, Norway, Japan, Switzerland and Yugoslavia competed in group B.