Willie O’Ree had a monumental impact on the sport of hockey, and now his number will be where it belongs: in the TD Garden rafters alongside other Boston Bruins greats.
O’Ree broke hockey’s color barrier in 1958, becoming the first Black player to play in an NHL game when he skated for the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens.
On Tuesday, the Bruins announced they will retire O’Ree’s No. 22 before their game against the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 18.
“On behalf of the Boston Bruins organization I would like to congratulate Willie O’Ree as well as his wife, Deljeet, and his daughter, Chandra, on having his number retired in the TD Garden rafters,” Bruins president Cam Neely said in a statement. “Willie’s contributions to the game of hockey transcend on-ice accomplishments and have opened countless doors for players who have come after him. He is without question deserving of this honor.”
“Throughout the history of the National Hockey League, there have been very few individuals that have had such a profound impact on the league and its culture than Willie O’Ree,” Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs said. “After breaking the color barrier as a Boston Bruin in 1958 and eventually retiring from professional hockey in 1979, Willie became the ultimate ambassador for improving diversity and inclusion within the game of hockey. The entire hockey world is forever indebted to Willie for all that he has done, and continues to do, for the sport. We are incredibly proud to retire Willie’s number and cement his legacy as one of Boston’s greatest athletes.”
O’Ree is in the Hall of Fame, getting inducted in the “Builder” category in 2018. He also has served as a Diversity Ambassador for the league since 1998.
The 85-year-old will be the 12th player to have his number retired by the Bruins, and suffice to say it is a deserved honor.