The Boston Bruins will retire their No.22 jersey in honor of Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first black player.
O’Ree made history as the league’s first Black player on January 18, 1958, when he suited up for the Boston Bruins versus the Montreal Canadiens.
O’Ree, who was legally blind in one eye, told reporters at the time that he believes it was the greatest thrill of his life, “I will always remember this day,” O’Ree said.
He retired from the sport in 1979, moving on to become an integral part of the NHL, spearheading diversity and inclusion as an ambassador for the league since 1998. His focus was on the NHL’s “Hockey Is For Everyone Initiative.”
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Now it’s time for the Bruins to honor O’Ree as he’ll become just the 12th person to have his number retired. In 2018 O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall Of Fame, as a member of the “Builder” category.
That category focuses on honoring those with “coaching, managerial, or executive ability or ability in significant off-ice role, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to his or her organization or organizations and to the game of hockey in general.”
Also in 2018 to honor the anniversary of O’Ree’s inaugural game, the Bruins and NHL donated to the Boston parks and recreation, by renaming a renovated street hockey rink in his honor at Smith Field in Allston.
After breaking the color barrier Willie O’Ree became the ultimate ambassador for improving diversity and inclusion within the game of hockey. For that, the entire hockey world is forever indebted to him for all he’s done and continues to do for the sport. He’ll go down in “Beantown” lure as one of the greatest athletes the city has ever had.
His efforts have opened doors for players like PK Subban, Wayne Simmonds, Seth Jones, Dustin Byfuglien, and Devante Smith-Pelley who (Scored 7 Goals During Capitals 2018 Stanley Cup Winning Playoff Run …. including the game-tying goal in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals to help Washington secure their first cup in franchise history). Just to name a few.
The ceremony will take place at TD Garden prior to a game against the New Jersey Devils on February 18th minus fan attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
The team does plan to honor O’Ree again in front of the fans once the restrictions have been lifted.