Willie O’Ree is looking forward to taking his place among Boston Bruins greats.
Bryant McBride, a former NHL executive and longtime friend of O’Ree, revealed to The Boston Globe’s Matt Porter last week some of the emotions the Boston Bruins legend is feeling ahead of his number-retirement ceremony. The Bruins will hoist O’Ree’s No. 22 to the TD Garden rafters Jan. 18, and he’s buzzing over the event.
“He’s in great health,” McBride told Porter. “He’s excited. He’s humbled and he’s overwhelmed by the whole thing. He was only at the top level for a little bit, but he found a way to add to the game in a way people couldn’t ignore.”
Out of an abundance of caution, O’Ree, 86, will participate in the ceremony virtually. However, his physical absence from TD Garden won’t dim his joy over the occasion.
O’Ree played his first NHL game Jan. 18, 1958, when he skated for the Boston Bruins and became the first Black player in NHL history. It undoubtedly was one of the highlights of his 21-year career as a professional hockey player. He has served as the NHL’s diversity ambassador since 1998, and the Hockey Hall of Fame inducted him into its ranks in 2018.
Be sure to watch the O’Ree number-retirement ceremony at 7 p.m. ET on Jan. 18 on NESN. The Bruins versus Carolina Hurricanes game immediately will follow the ceremony, with puck drop scheduled for 7:20 p.m.