O’Ree will attend the event virtually, but TD Garden will be packed with fans to watch his number get raised to the rafters.
Getting your number retired is a huge accomplishment in and of itself, just ask the 11 other Bruins players who have their numbers hanging. While it’s no Hall of Fame or Stanley Cup, it’s certainly up there given it means you’re being recognized for your accomplishments during your time with the organization and what you meant to the team.
O?Ree didn?t put up numbers like Ray Bourque, Eddie Shore or Bobby Orr did. But what O’Ree went through is something none of his other co-retirees ever had to experience.
O’Ree meant a lot to the Bruins club as well as the NHL. The first Black player in the league, O’Ree broke barriers, paved the way for other players from all backgrounds and will be remembered for so much more than just being a hockey player.
He played during a time when racism was explicit. Most of the crowds in the arenas were white fans, and O’Ree’s teammates, coaches and staff members also were white. He was resilient and never showed the weight he was barring.
To paint a clearer picture of what O’Ree had to deal with, check out this excerpt from ESPN:
It meant years of hearing people in and around rinks say that he was unwanted and unwelcome. It meant using their ignorance as fuel to defy stereotypes, while trying not to burn out from frustration over the fact that these stereotypes exist. And it meant carrying the weight of social stress and pressure on top of the daily training, focus and commitment it takes to be an elite athlete. That extra weight made every step of Willie’s journey more demanding than the steps taken by white players as everyone worked toward their dream of playing in the NHL.
The former forward played just two seasons in the NHL, both with the Bruins, and amassed 14 points in 45 games played. While O’Ree’s NHL career wasn’t lengthy and didn’t include a Stanley Cup, Selke Award, Hart Trophy or any other award like other retired numbers before him, it’s what he accomplished off the ice as well that forever will be remembered.
O’Ree has participated in several Hockey is for Everyone programs which included him dropping off hockey equipment to schools in the Boston area in 2011. He serves as the NHL’s director of youth development and ambassador for NHL Diversity, which has helped “expose more than 40,000 boys and girls of diverse backgrounds to unique hockey experiences,” per the Bruins.
The impact O’Ree has made off the ice continues to this day, and what he’s been able to do away from the rink while continuing to grow the game, even at 86 years old, is something that deserves to be remembered.
So while other players who are in the TD Garden rafters are enshrined for their on-ice accomplishments, it goes a bit further when it comes to O’Ree and what he’s done to try to ensure that hockey indeed is for everyone.
The ceremony begins 7 p.m. ET on Tuesday.