BOSTON — Willie O’Ree on Tuesday had his jersey number retired by the Boston Bruins, and though he participated in the pregame ceremony from his home in San Diego, he joined reporters on Zoom during the first intermission of Tuesday’s game to reflect on his historic career.
O’Ree, who became the NHL’s first Black player upon his Bruins debut exactly 64 years ago — on Jan. 18, 1958 — said his first NHL game naturally remained atop his list of favorite hockey memories.
“Coming up in 1958 and breaking the color barrier was just a fantastic feat,” O’Ree said. “I didn’t realize I broke the color barrier until I read it in the paper the next day.”
The 86-year-old also shared another moment that stood out among his 46 games with the Bruins. O’Ree walked reporters through his first NHL goal, which came on New Year’s Day in 1961 against the Montreal Canadiens.
“As we’re warming up before the game, one of my teammates Bronco Horvath says, ‘If you ever get in on (Charlie) Hodge, the goaltender for the Canadiens, he was the backup goalie.’ He says, ‘Keep the puck low, he’s weak on low shots, keep it away from his glove.’
“So we’re warming up and the game starts and the second period goes. In the third period, I’m busting down the left wing. I broke away from my check and one of my defensemen, Leo Boivin, just hit me with a perfect pass. I didn’t have to break stride. And I’m going in, I go around the defenseman. Now I’m going in on Hodge, the goalie. All of a sudden I can hear this voice in the back of my head: ‘Low, Willie. Keep it low.’ So I go in and I either shot the puck just off the ice or just along the ice. It hit the inside of the post and that went in, and that made it 3-1 for the Bruins.”
That goal ended up being the winner in a 3-2 victory for the Bruins. You can watch it here on the NHL’s official website.