NHL pioneer Willie O’Ree says it’s an honor to have the Bruins retired jersey


Willie O’Ree arrives at a meeting at Capitol Hill in Washington on July 25, 2019. (AP Photo / Susan Walsh, File) Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) – Willie O’Ree has experienced many honors during his lifetime, from becoming the NHL’s first black player in 1958 with the Boston Bruins to being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018.

But the 86-year-old says having his No. 22 jersey retired in Boston on Tuesday will rank right up there near the top.

  • Barry Chin

    The Bruins will retire the No. 22 jersey of Willie O’Ree, the first black player in the NHL

“It was something I never dreamed of,” O’Ree said in a telephone interview Monday. “I was very lucky to be called up to the Bruins in 1958 and played with them ’60 and ’61. And then suddenly find out that my jersey is going to retire and hang in the rafters there with the local icons and legends that is up there at the moment – it’s simply amazing. “

O’Ree had his groundbreaking moment on January 18, 1958, as he pitched against the Montreal Canadiens. He will be the 12th player in Brown’s history to have his number raised to the bar.

He had planned to be present in Boston’s match against Carolina on Tuesday, but persistent concerns about the pandemic changed those plans. He will now attend virtually from his home in San Diego.

“I was disappointed,” he said. “I have many friends in the Boston area and fans that I have known over the years. … With the virus going, we just felt that for our own safety, we would not take the trip.”

Originally from Fredericton, New Brunswick, O’Ree played two games for the Bruins in the 1957-58 season, spent the next two seasons in the minors and returned to Boston for 43 more during the 1960-61 season, with four goals and 10 assists over his 45 total matches. He was traded to the Canadiens in 1961, but never returned to NHL level.

Simultaneously with Tuesday’s ceremony, the NHL’s Black Hockey History Museum is in Boston this week. It will find its way to 28 cities in the United States and O’Ree’s native Canada this season – most cities it has visited yet. It was at the Bruins’ training facility on Sunday and stops at TD Garden ahead of Tuesday night’s game.

The 525-square-foot museum highlights pioneers and historians like O’Ree along with the league’s founders and Stanley Cup champions. It also looks forward to the next generation of young stars, NHL officials, TV companies and women in the game.

O’Ree has focused on the future of the NHL since his retirement from the sport. And since 1998, he has worked for the NHL as a diversity ambassador and worked to promote more inclusion and combat the racism that still exists in the league.

O’Ree has previously said that although he felt embraced by his teammates in Boston, his short time in the NHL was not untouched by the racism that permeated the Jim Crow era in the United States at the time.

“When I broke in with the Bruins in 1958, I heard the racial remarks and the racial slander from fans in the stands and players in the opposition,” O’Ree said. “But it did not really bother me. And I have to thank my big brother, who was not only my brother and my friend, but he was my mentor and taught me a lot that I would need to know. He says, ‘Willie. ‘If people can accept you for the person you are, then this is it. That’s their problem. Just go out and work hard and stay focused on what you want to do.’ And that’s basically what I did. ”

O’Ree said he is proud of the work he has done talking to young people at hockey clinics in hopes of diversifying the sport he loves.

“I just want to be remembered as not only as the first black player to play in the NHL, but just as someone who wanted to be involved with boys and girls and help them set goals for themselves and help them work towards their goals and feeling. good at themselves and like themselves, “he said.” I think that is very important. “

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