By: Patrick Donnelly | Follow me on Twitter @PatDonn12
The Boston Bruins and team president Cam Neely announced Tuesday that the organization will retire number 22 in honor of Wille O’Ree. The ceremony is set to take place on Feb. 18 before Boston’s game against the New Jersey Devils, according to the team.
“On behalf of the Boston Bruins organization I would like to congratulate Willie O’Ree as well as his wife, Deljeet, and his daughter, Chandra, on having his number retired in the TD Garden rafters,” Neely said in a statement. “Willie’s contributions to the game of hockey transcend on-ice accomplishments and have opened countless doors for players who have come after him.”
O’Ree broke the National Hockey League’s color barrier with the Bruins on Jan. 18, 1958, skating in a game against the Montreal Canadiens. He dressed in two games with Boston before returning to the minors that season.
“Throughout the history of the National Hockey League, there have been very few individuals that have had such a profound impact on the league and its culture than Willie O’Ree,” Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs said. “After breaking the color barrier as a Boston Bruin in 1958 and eventually retiring from professional hockey in 1979, Willie became the ultimate ambassador for improving diversity and inclusion within the game of hockey.”
O’Ree, who is legally blind in one eye, rejoined to the team in the 1960-61 season, skating in 43 games. In that span, he recorded four goals and 10 assists for 14 points.
In 2018, O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame under the “builder” category. He has also worked as a Diversity Ambassador for the league since 1998.
During his time in Boston, he wore 22 for the majority of the games he skated in (34). O’Ree also wore number 18 for two games and 25 for nine contests.
Boston eventually traded O’Ree to Montreal, but he never ended up playing in a game for the Canadiens. He retired from hockey in 1979 after spending 19 seasons playing in the minors, 13 of which were spent in the old Western Hockey League.
O’Ree will become the 12th player to have his number retired in franchise history, joining: Eddie Shore (2), Lionel Hitchman (3), Bobby Orr (4), Aubrey “Dit” Clapper (5), Phil Esposito (7), Cam Neely (8), Johnny Bucyk (9), Milt Schmidt (15), Rick Middleton (16), Terry O’Reilly (24) and Ray Bourque (77).
Due to the ongoing restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the Feb. 18 ceremony will not have fans in attendance. But the Bruins said the team plans to honor O’Ree again once fans are allowed at TD Garden.
A total of 35 players have worn No. 22 in franchise history for the Bruins. Most notably, Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Brad Park as well as fan favorite Shawn Thornton are among those to have also worn the number.
Newly-signed Bruins forward Craig Smith currently wears No. 22. It is unclear right now what he will change to.