The IIHF World Junior Championship wasn’t really that interesting for the Canadian people up until 1978. The defending Memorial Cup champions earned the right to play for Team Canada in the tournament.
But it was changed late in the ’70s, meaning the country’s most talented players represented Canada. And it couldn’t have changed at a better time. It allowed Canadians to watch not only the greatest young players but a first glance at the greatest of all time.
Wayne Gretzky only played in one World Juniors tournament, and as a 16-year-old, he was the youngest in the 1978 tournament. That didn’t stop him from putting up a complete shot, and with eight goals and nine assists, he led the tournament in points in just six games played.
Gretzky earned the tournament’s Top Forward honor and a spot in the all-star team—but most importantly, the Canadian people and hockey fans all around the globe got a first look at the young kid called Wayne Gretzky, and everyone realized how special he was.
Just the following season, a 17-year-old Gretzky would play his first-ever WHA game, and he wasn’t old when he started to dominate in the NHL. He never played another WJC again, but his performance in the one tournament he played made a lasting memory.
It’s not easy finding videos from the tournament since it was 45 years ago, but there’s some footage available on YouTube, and watching it is incredible.
Gretzky’s amazing talent at that young age is breathtaking, and some of the goals and assists he scores are nothing but incredible. Gretzky was always able to read the game better than anyone else, which was the case in the WJC despite being the youngest on the ice. Just take a look for yourself; we promise you won’t be disappointed.