This Day in Bruins History: Willie O’ Ree Makes NHL Debut

(Photo Credit: Boston Bruins)

By: Evan Michael | Follow me on Twitter @00EvanMichael

On this day in Bruins history, January 18th, 1958, history was made in the National Hockey League and for Boston’s hometown team.

That’s when Willie O’ Ree debuted, proudly wearing the bespoked-“B”, becoming the first black player to skate in an NHL game.

He donned the famous Black N’ Gold sweater and laced up his skates alongside Jerry Toppazzini and Don McKenney on the road against familiar foes the Montreal Canadiens.

As the official Boston Bruins website shared while celebrating this milestone anniversary a few years ago, the Montreal Gazette described O’Ree’s play the morning after his first game: “A fleet skater, he had one good scoring chance on a play with Toppazzini in the third period. He lost it when he was hooked from behind.”

Thankfully, O’Ree’s hook on the Bruins and the game of hockey reeled in much more than just a few points on the scoresheet over the next six decades (including being inducted into the HHOF).

Though his professional NHL playing career for the Bruins only lasted 45 total games over an abbreviated two-and-a-half seasons (he was up-and-down from the minors quite a bit), his career as an ambassador of the game and spokesman for racial justice continued, bringing about highlights like this one:

The Bruins will continue to honor O’Ree with a special ceremony via zoom after tonight’s game against Carolina, one in which his #22 jersey will be officially retired and raised to the TD Garden rafters.

He’ll join the likes of other B’s legends including Eddie Shore, Lionel Hitchman, Bobby Orr, Dit Clapper, Phil Esposito, Cam Neely, Johnny Bucyk, Milt Schmidt, Rick Middleton, Terry O’Reilly and Ray Bourque.

The Boston Bruins are giving YOU the chance to celebrate this historic milestone for Willie O’Ree and the organization by submitting your photos on behalf of the Bruins Academy Kids Club!

Go to the website tweeted below for a chance to win tickets to tonight’s game and ceremony. And of course, keep it right here on the BN’G Hockey Blog for post-game reactions and special commentary relating to O’Ree’s #22 jersey retirement.

It looks like January 18th will now hold two special This Day in Bruins History moments. Congrats Willie O’Ree!

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