|5 ft 10 in (1.78 m)|
180 lb (82 kg)
|Born||October 15, 1935,|
Fredericton, NB, CA
|Pro Career||1956 – 1979|
Willie O'Ree (b. October 15th 1935 in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada) is a former professional winger who played in the National Hockey League for the Boston Bruins and is most prominent for being the first black player in the NHL.
Playing Career[edit | edit source]
Nicknamed the Jackie Robinson of hockey due to his role in breaking the colour barrier in hockey just like Robinson did in baseball, O'Ree began his pro career with the Springfield Indians of the American Hockey League in 1957. During that season, O'Ree earned a first call up to the NHL when an injury occurred. O'Ree was then 95% blind in his right eye (a condition caused by an errant puck two years before) but successfully keeping it secret, he played two games in the NHL, including his historic first on January 18, 1958 against the Montreal Canadiens.
For the November 19, 1960 game against the Detroit Red Wings, O'Ree was also recalled for his second and final stint in the NHL with the Bruins. He wore jersey #25 as they won 6-4 with Don McKenney scoring a Hat trick. O'Ree played the next four games but went pointless and was pulled from the line-up as the Bruins went winless in the remaining games in November.
On December 18, 1960, O'Ree was inserted back into the Bruins line-up. He'd be a regular for the remainder of the season and record his first points in the next game on December 22, 1960 against Chicago. He assisted on the first goal of the game by André Pronovost and then 37 seconds later, assisted on a goal by Autry Erickson. The Bruins won 4-2 in the only multiple point game of O'Ree's NHL career. The Bruins had a 7-20-5 record entering the January 1, 1961 game against Montreal at the Boston Garden. O'Ree had switched to jersey #22 (which he'd wear for the remainder of the season) and entering the third period, the Bruins were leading 2-1. Just past the halfway mark, Leo Boivin sent O'Ree on a breakaway against Canadiens netminder Charlie Hodge. O'Ree fired a low shot to Hodge's glove side which proved to be the game winner as the Bruins triumphed 3-2.
O'Ree also scored the winner on January 19, 1961 versus Detroit in a 4-2 victory. O'Ree scored in each of the last two games of the 1960–61 Boston Bruins season and finished his last NHL season with 4 goals and 14 points.
After this, O'Ree would become a career minor-leaguer, playing chiefly in the Western Hockey League, the Eastern Professional Hockey League and one season in the American Hockey League with the New Haven Nighthawks. He would retire in 1979 after one last season in the Pacific Hockey League.
After O'Ree, there was no other black player in the NHL until fellow Canadian Mike Marson was drafted by the Washington Capitals in 1974. Alton White became the second black player in a major hockey league when he signed and played for the Los Angeles Sharks during the 1972-73 WHA Season.
Honours[edit | edit source]
O'Ree was inducted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 1984. He later became the Director of Youth Development for the NHL/USA Hockey Diversity Task Force, a non-profit program for minority youth that encourages them to learn and play hockey. As of the mid-2000s, O'Ree lives in Berkeley, California.
On the afternoon of January 19, 2008, the Bruins and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly honoured O'Ree at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston to mark the 50th anniversary of his NHL debut. In addition, The Sports Museum of New England located in TD Banknorth Garden, established a special exhibit on O'Ree's career, comprising many items on loan from his personal collection.
On February 5, 2008, ESPN did a special on him in honour of Black History Month.
There is a hockey rink named in his honour in his childhood home town of Fredericton, Willie O'Ree Place.
Trivia[edit | edit source]
- O'Ree wore jersey #18 for the two games he played for Boston in January 1958. The games he played in November and December 1960, he wore jersey #25. Beginning January 1, 1961 until his last NHL game on March 19, 1961, he wore jersey #22.
- O'Ree's first NHL goal on January 1, 1961 was the game winner as was his second goal on January 19, 1961. He scored in each of the last two games of the 1960-61 season.