Celebrating Bruins’ Willie O’Ree

(Photo Credit: AP)

By: Amy Tolman | Follow me on Twitter @amy7594

On January 18, 1958, Willie O’Ree made his debut not only as a member of the Boston Bruins but also being the first black hockey player in the National Hockey League. That night the Bruins beat Montreal 3-0. In the 1957-58 season, O’Ree only played in two games and then returned for the 1960-61 season. In his two NHL years, he played in 45 games, scored four goals, ten assists, and had 14 regular-season points.

On January 1, 1961, he was the first Black player in NHL history to score a goal. The game was against the Canadiens, and the Bruins won that game 3-2. O’Ree’s career was not an easy one. During the 1960-61 season, O’Ree was being harassed with racial taunts by a player from the Chicago Blackhawks. The player then proceeded to butt-ended O’Ree that broke some of his teeth. O’Ree retaliated by breaking his stick over the Blackhawk’s player’s head. The result of that fight was a brawl that broke out amongst the two teams. According to O’Ree’s book “Willie O’Ree: The Story of the First Black Player in the NHL, ” O’Ree mentions that throughout his time playing hockey, he was treated worse in the United States than in Canada.

After His NHL Career

(Photo Credit: NHL.com)

In 1998 O’Ree became the NHL’s Director of Youth Development and an ambassador for the NHL Diversity program. He traveled throughout North America to promote grassroots hockey programs, focusing on serving disadvantaged children. In 2003 O’Ree was named the Lester Patrick Trophy winner for his outstanding service to hockey in the United States.

In 2010, O’Ree received the Order of Canada award. The Order of Canada is a Canadian national order and the second-highest honor for merit in the system of orders, decorations, and medals of Canada, after the Order of Merit. He was awarded this for his outstanding service to youth development and promoting hockey within North America. O’Ree was also named an honored member of the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 1984.

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

O’Ree’s induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2018 listed him as part of the “Builder” category. The “Builder” category is coaching, managerial or executive ability, or ability in another significant off-ice role, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to their organization or organizations and the game of hockey in general. Others like Marc Recchi (inducted 2017) fall under the category of players. In addition to O’Ree’s 60th-anniversary commemoration, the NHL and Bruins donated to Boston Parks and Recreation a refurbished street hockey rink dedicated to O’Ree called the ”Willie O’Ree Rink.”

On January 12. 2021, the Boston Bruins announced the retirement of O’Ree’s number 22. O’Ree is the 12th player to have his sweater honored by the Boston Bruins in franchise history. His number will be joining other great players in Boston history: Lionel Hitchman, Aubrey V. Clapper, Edward W. Shore, Milton C. Schmidt, Robert G. Orr, John P. Bucyk, Philip A. Esposito, Raymond J. Bourque, Terence J. O’Reilly, Cameron M. Neely, and Richard D. Middleton.

BOSTON – Boston Bruins President Cam Neely announced today, January 12, that the team will honor Willie O’Ree by retiring his number 22 jersey prior to the team’s game against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday, February 18.

by Boston Bruins @NHLBruins / Boston Bruins
(Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett | Getty Images)

For a more in-depth look at the ceremony that will take place, read fellow Black N Gold Hockey writer Patrick Donnelly‘s article: Bruins To Retire Willie O’Ree’s No. 22.

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