On October 16th, 1986 the IOC awarded the 16th Olympic Winter Games to Albertville, France. It was a close battle, taking five rounds of voting to finally eliminate Sofia, Bulgaria and Falun, Sweden. Also in the running was Anchorage, USA, Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy and Lillehammer, Norway.
1992 marked the birth of the modern Olympic hockey tournament format, complete with elimination playoffs and a true gold medal game.
The Russians would win yet again, with a very competitive Canadian entry bowing 3-1 in a very tight final game. The gold medalists competed under the title of Unified Team, as the political destruction of the old Soviet Union saw many of the satellite states breaking away from Russia. For these Olympics, all competitors from these new countries continued to work with the Russians, under the not so catchy name.
1992 also marked the beginning of parity on the international scene, as political freedom meant most of the former Soviet stars were now in the NHL. Now most countries were finally on an even playing field.
The Russians were led by old Red Army hold overs like Vyacheslav Bykov, Andrei Khomutov and Igor Kravchuk. They also introduced a plethora of younger players that NHL audiences would soon become very familiar with, including Nikolai Borschevsky, Darius Kasparaitis, Alexei Kovalev, Vladimir Malakhov, Alexei Zhamnov, Alexei Zhitnik and Sergei Zubov.
Canada's roster was highlighted with Eric Lindros. Lindros had refused to report the Quebec Nordiques after they had picked him in the NHL draft. Rather than sign a contract or head to Europe, Lindros committed to the national team for most of the year, and spoke fondly of Olympic dreams. With the media circus following Lindros, it was very easy to get excited about Canada's chances.
Those chances were enhanced by the unexpected return of Sean Burke in net. Burke had split Olympic duties in 1988 with NHL contract hold out Andy Moog. Burke turned pro immediately after those games and quickly established himself as solid NHL goalie, but in 1992 he found himself in Moog's position as the hold out. He returned to the national team program for the entire year. Trevor Kidd and long time minor league goalie Sam St. Laurent backed Burke up.
Joey Juneau was also holding out, although at the time he had yet to play a NHL game. He wanted a one-way contract and the Boston Bruins were refusing to give it to him. He would become the star of the Canadian team, instrumental in the silver medal performance, finally forcing Boston to give in. He would sign a three year, one-way contract right after the Olympics, including a nice $300,000 signing bonus.
Journeyman forwards Dave Tippett and Dave Hannan were the only late NHL additions to the Olympic roster. Veteran defenseman Curt Giles joined mid-season to stabilize a young blue line. Canada had learned it's lesson from 1988 and did not want to disturb the strong chemistry they had created amongst their team.
At the core of the team were some very good young players, brilliant skaters who many thought had good futures ahead of them, although most had no impact in the NHL. The list included defensemen Kevin Dahl, Gord Hynes, Adrien Plavsic, Dan Ratushny, Jason Woolley and captain Brad Schlegel. Supporiting Lindros and Juneau up front was Chris Lindberg, Kent Manderville, Patrick Lebeau, Dave Archibald, Todd Brost, Fabian Joseph, Randy Smith and 1988 returnee Wally Schreiber.
The Czechoslovaks captured the bronze medal despite a no-name roster. A few youngsters would go onto find success in the NHL: Robert Lang and defensemen Jiri Slegr, Richard Smehlik and Robert Svehla. Czechoslovakian hockey players had a little extra incentive to win, as they were guaranteed a new car had they won a medal.
Finishing in 4th place was the Americans, inspired by the late addition of veteran minor pro goalie Ray Leblanc. Veteran Moe Mantha and 1988 forward Scott Young added experience to a young team that included Bret Hedican, Ted Donato, Shawn McEachern and Keith Tkachuk.
The fifth place Swedes had a disappointing showing considering they brought in some veteran help in the form of Bengt Gustafsson, Hakan Loob, Mats Naslund and even Borje Salming. Aside goalie Tommy Soderstrom and maybe forward Thomas Rundqvist, the Swedish team was otherwise comprised of players most North Americans have never heard of.
It was a similar story for Finland, who finished 7th behind Germany. They platooned Kari Eloranta, Hannu Virta, Ville Siren, Hannu Jarvenpaa, Raimo Summanen, and Petri Skriko. The rest of their team was no-names except for one young forward named Teemu Selanne.
Other notable players in the 1992 Olympics included home country hero Phillippe Bozon, pictured, (France) and a young Mariusz Czerkawski (Poland).
Germany won the most Olympic medals with 26, compared to the Unified Team's 23 and Austria's 21.
Norway took every male cross country skiing gold medal, while Alberto Tomba repeated his 1988 Giant Slalom gold medal. The darlings of the 1992 games were either US speedskater Bonnie Blair or figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi.
Yamaguchi would one day marry fellow 1992 Olympian Bret Hedican.