BLACK HISTORY MONTH PROFILE: Willie O’Ree
February is Black History Month, and each week the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins will be highlighting a black hockey trailblazer who has left his or her mark on the sport. Check back each Monday throughout the month for another player profile.
Born in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Willie O’Ree became the first black player to suit up in a National Hockey League game when he made his debut with the Boston Bruins on January 18, 1958. He was scoreless in two games with Boston that season, spending the majority of the year with the Quebec Aces of the Quebec Hockey League.
He spent the next two seasons in the minor leagues, but suited up in 43 games with the Bruins during the 1960-61 campaign, recording 14 points (4+10).
O’Ree spent the majority of his playing career in the Western Hockey League, playing six seasons with the Los Angeles Blades and seven more with the San Diego Gulls. He recorded 639 points (328+311) in 785 games in the WHL.
He also appeared in 56 AHL games with the Springfield Indians (six games, 1957-58) and New Haven Nighthawks (50 in 1972-73).
In 2018, O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the builder category for his extraordinary commitment to growing and diversifying the game.
O’Ree has served as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador since 1998, and has helped the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone initiative introduce more than 130,000 boys and girls of diverse backgrounds to the sport of hockey
His number 22 was retired by the Boston Bruins January 18, 2022 – exactly 54 years after he broke the league’s color barrier.
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