Willie O’Ree, who made history by breaking the NHL’s colour barrier as the league’s first Black player in 1958, had his No. 22 jersey retired by the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night prior to the team’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
“To the Bruins fans, I am honoured to have had the pleasure of playing before you. Thank you for your tremendous love and support,” O’Ree said in a video addressed to the crowd Tuesday night. “This is an unforgettable day. I am overwhelmed and thrilled to be a part of the Bruins, forever.”
O’Ree, 86, was the 12th player in team history to have his number honoured, joining such standouts as Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque and Cam Neely, among others.
The city of Boston declared Jan. 18 “Willie O’Ree Day” to help celebrate the event.
After his first appearance in a game breaking the league’s colour barrier on Jan. 18, 1958, O’Ree played in 44 more games for the Bruins over two seasons, including 43 games in the 1960-61 season, in which he recorded four goals and 10 assists on 62 shots.
He went on to champion hockey in the Boston community via youth sports, was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame for his contributions to the sport in 2018 and he has served as a diversity ambassador for the NHL for the past several decades.
He coined, “Hockey is for Everyone,” which also became the name of the NHL’s social change and inclusion initiative.
Current Toronto Maple Leafs player Wayne Simmonds addressed the emotional event on social media, saying, “Tonight my idol Willie O’Ree’s number 22 will be hung from the rafters (Finally). I can’t stress how much Mr O’Ree has meant to me and millions of other BIPOC kids who love the game of hockey... Congratulations MR O’Ree”