Canadian former professional hockey player Willie O’Ree is scheduled to receive honorable recognition for his most respected contribution in the history of the sport.
O’Ree was the first Black player to break the color barrier within the NHL in 1958 under the Boston Bruins franchise. Legally blind of one eye, he planted a historical seed and paved the way for others to follow.
Known as the “Jackie Robinson of hockey” O’Ree also played for the WHL’s (Western Hockey League) Los Angeles Blades and San Diego Gulls along with the American Hockey League’s (AHL) New Haven Nighthawks scoring two titles.
The 85-year-old pioneer played two seasons with the Bruins as a winger and in 1961, had a remarkable performance playing 43 games, scoring 4 goals and 10 assists for his career-high before retiring in 1979.
Since then, O’Ree has served as the diversity ambassador for the NHL traveling across the Northern region attending hockey programs promoting messages of affirmation, and in 2018 was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
On February 18th prior to the Bruins vs Devils game, O’Ree’s #22 jersey will be honored and retired the team announced yesterday.
“Willie’s contributions to the game of hockey transcend on-ice accomplishments and have opened countless doors for players who have come after him. He is without question deserving of this honor” stated Bruins President Cam Neely.
After O’Ree, there were no other black players in the league until fellow Canadian athlete Mike Marson was drafted by the Washington Capitals in 1974. The late Art Dorrington was the first Black player to sign an NHL contract in 1950 with the NY Rangers organization though never played beyond the minor league level.
Willie made note of his resilience dealing with racist remarks made by fans as a player, “It didn’t bother me. I just wanted to be a hockey player, and if they couldn’t accept that fact, that was their problem, not mine” stated the dignitary figure.
What an acclamation and privilege to honor a man of such pure integrity to have made an immense embellishment in our history, one could not be any prouder.