Unified front yields gold on the ice
The Soviet Union had collapsed in the year leading up to these Games, and so its athletes competed under the unfamiliar flag of the Unified Team. However, many of the faces remained familiar as did their desire for success.
Four years earlier, the Soviet Union had won Olympic ice hockey gold with relative ease, but their build-up to these Games had been stuttering, and they had finished only third at the most recent world championship, which was won by Sweden.
And in Albertville it appeared as if their successors, the Unified Team, had inherited their vulnerabilities, as they were beaten by the Czech Republic in one of their first matches. To put that into perspective the Soviet team had only lost three times in eight previous editions of the Winter Games. They recovered, though, with four victories in the group stage, including a thrilling 5-4 victory over fellow heavyweights Canada. It was enough to put the Unified Team top of their qualifying group.
A quarter-final against Finland saw the Unified Team finally hitting something like top form, as they won 6-1 to set up a semi-final with the USA. The country's name might have changed, but in many people's eyes this was the latest chapter in the long-standing battle between the Americans and the Soviet Union!
For much of the match, it was close. After two periods, the score was tied at 2-2, but then came a decisive run of three goals in just six minutes as the Unified Team surged into a 5-2 lead. The Americans could not respond, and the Unified Team were into the final.
In the gold medal, they locked horns once more with Canada. Again, it was a tight match, with two goalless periods setting up a tense finale.