By: Patrick Donnelly | Follow me on Twitter @PatDonn12
The National Hockey League announced Thursday that the Willie O’Ree’s No. 22 will be retired by the Boston Bruins on Jan. 18, 2022 – exactly 64 years after O’Ree broke the NHL’s color barrier. The ceremony was originally set to take place on Feb. 18 before Boston’s game against the New Jersey Devils at TD Garden.
“We hope and expect the change will enable us all to commemorate this moment in a way that matches the magnitude of Willie’s impact – in front of a TD Garden crowd packed with passionate Bruins fans, who can express their admiration and appreciation for Willie and create the meaningful moment he has earned throughout his incredible career,” the league said in a statement.
The league said that it consulted the Bruins and O’Ree in the decision, who “graciously agreed” to the rescheduling. The Bruins announced last month that the organization would be retiring O’Ree’s number.
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.
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).
A total of 35 players have worn No. 22 in franchise history for the Bruins, with forward Peter Cehlarik being the most recent player to do so. 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 forward Craig Smith was originally supposed to wear the number, but switched to No. 12 after the announcement.