Photo Credit: In Play Magazine / Windsor, Ontario
Yesterday, the National Hockey League announced there will be a new piece of hardware being presented at this year’s awards ceremony held once again in Las Vegas, Nevada. This year’s festivities from Sin City will feature former Boston Bruins player Willie O’Ree and acknowledge his pursuit to promote the game through racial diversity with an award in his honor.
NHL announced today the creation of the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award to recognize the commitment of those who are improving lives and strengthening their communities through the game of hockey. It will be presented for the first time at the 2018 NHL Awards in Vegas.
— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) April 6, 2018
As Mr. Shannon mentioned in his above Tweet the new Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award will recognize the commitment of those who are improving lives and strengthening their communities through the game of hockey as Mr. O’Ree has done for so many years. O’Ree who’ss been the NHL’s League Diversity Ambasodor since 1998 was a member of the Boston Bruins when he played his first career game as a black player ever in the league when he broke the race barrier playing his first game in January of 1958. Even though O’Ree’s NHL career consisted of 45 games all with the Boston team, he had a tremendous hockey career in general playing from the 1950-51 season to the 1978-79 campaign playing until he was 43-years-old.
When asked about Willie O’Ree being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Hockey Hall of Fame Goaltender & 5 time Cup Champion, Grant Fuhr replied “I hope Willie gets in he set a path for a lot of us to follow. A true builder of the game.” @grantfuhr @HockeyHallFame #ORee4HHOF pic.twitter.com/whFYnBiJUE
— Tim Scammell (@timrs2001) April 6, 2018
When it comes to stats, Willie had his best career in the now-defunct Western Hockey League playing 13 seasons starting with the Los Angels Blades and San Diego Gulls where he amassed 328-311-639 numbers in 785 games of minor league hockey. In the mentioned 45 NHL games played O’Ree registered 4-10-14 totals and those numbers and minimal experience at the top level of the world is one of the most significant issues why he shouldn’t be considered to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario.
— Tim Scammell (@timrs2001) March 15, 2018
We can all agree that his numbers are not worthy of HHoF consideration as a player but how about in the builder categories that was received from the unpopular Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs in November of 2017. In my opinion, I believe he should get his call to the Hall as a character builder of the league with the way he’s inspired so many young children to choose hockey with the right-to-play mentality,. Many of those he touched have spent some time in the NHL having successful careers such as goaltender Kevin Weekes, forward Jarome Iginla, and defenseman PK Subban.
It should be very interesting to see who this year’s first-time recipient will be with so many valid candidates. I believe that we’ll always have ambassadors of the game but with the way NHL franchise’s work with the surrounding communities where the teams are based out of, and increased numbers of youth interest in the game these days, it’s not going to be easy to select a winner.
O’Ree has this to say below from his interview that can also be seen from the originator the NHL Public Relations article published yesterday here at NHL.com
“I believe in our youth, and in the power of the game of hockey to unlock the on- and off-ice potential of boys and girls around the world,” said O’Ree. “I am honored to be chosen as the namesake for this award, which will shine a light on many others within the hockey community who share a similar belief, passion and vision of the future of this game.”
Also, mentioned in the NHL.com article was what league Commissioner Gary Bettman had to say.
“We are privileged to honor Willie with the creation of this new community award,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. “He has dedicated his life to equality and inclusion; to supporting young people of all backgrounds who are following their dreams; and to using hockey as a platform to build character and teach life skills.”