What You Need To Know:
Former NHL player Willie O’Ree, 85, will be honored in a ceremony by his team, the Boston Bruins, for being its first Black NHL player. Though he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018, O’Ree’s No. 22 jersey will be retired at the upcoming ceremony next month, making him the third Black player to have his number retired.
“When I stepped onto the ice with the Bruins, it did not dawn on me that I was breaking the color barrier. That’s how focused I was on making my dream come true. I did not realize I had made history until I read it in the paper the next day”, O’Ree said about debuting for the Bruins in January 1958 at the age of 22. O’Ree played professional hockey for 21 seasons, including 13 in the WHL before retiring in 1979 after 45 games, 10 goals, and 4 assists.
“Willie’s contributions to the game of hockey…have opened countless doors for players who have come after him”, said Bruins President Cam Neely in an announcement about the upcoming ceremony. In 1996, O’Ree became the NHL’s first diversity ambassador, promoting NHL and youth level events in addition to the league’s Hockey Is For Everyone program, which encourages inclusion and diversity. The NHL also has plans to honor O’Ree this season with helmet decals featuring his signature fedora and the words “Celebrating Equality” that will be worn by players through the end of Black History Month.
Why We Need To Know:
The game of hockey was created by Native Americans. Much of how the game is played today was shaped by the sons and grandsons of escaped slaves in Halifax, Nova Scotia, who formed The Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes in 1895. The first teams are credited for incorporating the use of the slapshot maneuver and goalies dropping to their knees to make saves, although Black players are said to have played in south of Halifax in Northwest Arm as early as 1815.