December 26, 2012

1978 World Juniors - Interview With 16 Year Old Wayne Gretzky

Here is a real treat: It's from the 1978 World Junior Hockey Championships held in Quebec. It is a rare interview with a very composed 16 year old Wayne Gretzky.


Gretzky's composure never ceases to amaze me. But he did have a slip up in this tournament. He talked openly about his frustration about not being able to move to higher levels of hockey sooner. Back then, the NHL did not draft players until they were 20 years of age. Gretzky, who of course was tearing up the juniors as a 16 year old, knew he needed to play at a higher level of competition. Since the NHL was not an option, and the WHA, at that moment in time, did not appear to an option, Gretzky suggested he might move to Sweden to play professionally against men.

Not surprisingly the comment raised more than a few eyebrows. Gretzky later said he was misquoted, but clearly he never intended to play a second season of junior hockey. Later in 1978 he signed with the WHA's Indianapolis Racers as a 17 year old.

Getting back to the 1978 World Juniors: Of course it is pretty unusual to see a 16 year old play in this esteemed tournament. Few players dominated like #9 (he didn't wear #99 in this tournament). Gretzky led the tournament in scoring with 8 goals and 17 points. He helped Canada win the bronze medal.

Team Canada 1978 featured no shortage of future NHLers - Wayne Babych and Tony McKegney (Gretzky's linemates in the tournament), Ryan Walter, Mike Gartner, Rob Ramage, Bobby Smith, Craig Hartsburg, Steve Tambellini, Brad Marsh, Rick Vaive, Brad McCrimmon and Stan Smyl. Punch MacLean was the coach.

Here's some live footage from 1978 - specifically Wayne Gretzky's most famous goal from that tournament:



Other notable players in this tournament include Anton Stastny, Mats Naslund, Sergei Makarov and Viacheslav Fetisov.

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