Several months before the start of the tournament, the decision was made to allow teams to include professional players on their rosters. This made it possible for NHL players like goalie Andy Moog, who was involved in a contract dispute with the Edmonton Oilers, to join the Canadian Olympic Team. Oilers teammate Randy Gregg also joined the team, as did Brian Bradley of the Calgary Flames and Ken Yaremchuk of the Toronto Maple Leafs. A few days prior to the competition, Tim Watters (Winnipeg Jets), Steve Tambellini (Vancouver Canucks) and Jim Peplinski (Calgary Flames) were added to the Canadian roster.
In the aftermath of its disappointing showing at the 1987 World Championships, the USSR appeared less formidable entering the Olympic tournament. During the preliminary round they struggled to beat the United States 7-5 and West Germany 6-3. However the Soviets played their best hockey when it counted most. They silenced a sell-out crowd by blanking Canada 5-0 in its first medal round game, then clinched the gold medal by trouncing Sweden 7-1. By starting Sergei Mylnikov in goal, the champions won their first title in twenty years without the legendary Vladislav Tretiak.
Finland, with Jukka Tammi starring in goal upset the Soviets 2-1 on closing day which relegated Sweden to the bronze medal position. West Germany made an excellent showing, upsetting Czechoslovakia 2-1 before the Opening Ceremonies on February 13 and dashing American medal chances by defeating the U.S. 4-1 to qualify for the medal round.
Despite their professional reinforcements, Canada lost a key preliminary round game to Finland 3-1 and wound up out of the medals with a fourth-place finish.