For the first time since ice hockey was introduced at the Olympic Games in 1920, Canada failed to send a team to the 1972 Olympics after Canadian Minister of Health and WelfareJohn Munro announced the withdrawal of the team from all international competitions in response to the International Ice Hockey Federation opposition to allowing professional players at international competitions. Canadian officials were frustrated that their best players, competing in the National Hockey League, were prevented from playing while Soviet players, who were "employees" of the industrial or military organizations that fielded "amateur" teams, were allowed to compete. At that point, the Canadian men's ice hockey team was the most successful team in the world, having won six of the eleven tournaments previously competed, with medals in ten of the eleven tournaments (and a controversial post-tournament rule change denying them a perfect eleven medals). Canada would not compete internationally in hockey until 1977, when the IIHF adopted eligibility rules that allowed for professional players to compete. Instead of competing internationally at the Olympics, Canadian officials helped organize a series of games against the Soviet Union in 1972 known as the Summit Series.
While the 1980 team had the celebrated "Miracle on Ice" and the 1960 US team had the "Forgotten Miracle", the 1972 team could be called the "completely overlooked miracle." The U.S. team was expected to finish 5th behind the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Sweden, and Finland. The Soviet and Czech teams were especially powerful as there was no distinction between amateurs and pros in communist countries; these teams were made up of seasoned professionals and were ranked 1 & 2 in the world. Valeri Kharlamov of the Soviet Union was considered one of the world's best players and experts agree he would have been a star in the NHL. The same can be said for Soviet goaltender Vladislav Tretiak. In fact, this was basically the same Soviet Team that played a Canadian team composed of NHL All Stars in the 1972 Summit Series that Canada narrowly won, 4-3-1.
After qualifying for Group A by beating Switzerland 5-3, the U.S. lost as expected to Sweden, 5-1. Then they pulled off the upset of the tournament when they beat Czechoslovakia, 5-1. This surprising result was nearly as astonishing as the wins over the Soviets in 1960 and 1980. After losing as expected to the Soviet Union, the young Americans upset Finland. In the final games of the competition, the U.S. beat Poland while Finland beat Sweden and the Soviets beat the Czechs (in the game that decided the gold medal); those results boosted the U.S. from 4th to 2nd for an unexpected silver medal.
Fourteen nations qualified, but East Germany, Romania and France all chose not to travel for primarily financial reasons. The remaining eleven nations were seeded according to their placement in the 1971 World Championships with first place (USSR) and the five winners to play in Group A to for 1st-6th places. The five losers played in Group B for 7th-11th places. 1971 ranking appears in parentheses.