Gretzky was a 16-year-old when he first received international attention, as he became the youngest player to compete in the World Junior Championships. At the 1978 tournament in Montreal, against the world's best 18- to 20-year-old players, Gretzky finished as top scorer with 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) in six games. He was voted to the Tournament's All-Star team and was honored as the Best Forward.
Canada finished that competition with a bronze medal. The club also featured several players who have gone on to coaching and management careers in the NHL, including Phoenix Coyotes General Manager Bobby Smith, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim coach Craig Hartsburg and Vancouver Canucks assistant coach Stan Smyl. Other future NHL players included Mike Gartner and Brad McCrimmon.
Gretzky's next foray into international hockey occurred in 1981 with his participation in the Canada Cup tournament, a six-team tournament which also featured Czechoslovakia, Finland, Soviet Union, Sweden, and the United States. In his first competition against the world's best professional players, the 20-year-old Gretzky maintained his offensive prowess by finishing as the top scorer in the competition. His five goals and seven assists helped Canada to a second-place finish behind the Soviet Union.
Seven months later, Gretzky donned the national team sweater again -- this time with Team Canada at the 1982 World Championships in Helsinki. On a club which also featured Bob Clarke and Bob Gainey, Gretzky collected six goals and eight assists for 14 points to lead all players. He was joined by Team Canada's captain Bill Barber on the tournament All-Star team, marking the first time since 1968 that two Canadians were selected to the first All-Star team at a World event. Team Canada captured the bronze medal, its first medal at a World tournament since 1978, led by The Great One's two goals and two assists in a 6-0 rout of Sweden.
Again led by Gretzky, Canada dominated the next three Canada Cup Tournaments, winning in 1984, 1987 and 1991. Gretzky was named to the All-Star team in the 1984 and 1987 tournaments and finished as the scoring leader in all three competitions, despite missing the 1991 tournament Final against the U.S. with a back injury. He is the all-time scoring leader in Canada Cup competition with 57 points (17 goals, 40 assists) in 31 games.
The 1987 event marked his best performance as he notched three goals and 18 assists for 21 points in nine games. He and Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux formed an explosive duo, combining on the tournament-winning goal late in the third period. Boston Bruins star Ray Bourque competed with Gretzky on the 1984 and 1987 Canada Cup teams, as well as the NHL All-Star roster in the 1987 Rendez-Vous two-game series against the Soviets.
In 1996, the first-ever World Cup tournament was staged throughout North America and Europe. The World Cup saw Canada finish second, behind the United States. It was the first time Gretzky did not lead an international tournament in scoring; he finished fourth on the team with three goals and four assists in eight games.
On Nov. 29, 1997, the Great One was selected to the Canadian Olympic Team roster and would bring the curtain down on one of the greatest international careers in hockey history with four assists in six games as Canada reached the semifinal before suffering a shootout loss to the eventual Gold Medal champion Czech Republic.