Willie O'Ree, NHL's First Black Player, Hopes for Hockey Hall of Fame Call

By Bissett, Kevin | The Canadian Press, June 25, 2018 | Go to article overview

Willie O'Ree, NHL's First Black Player, Hopes for Hockey Hall of Fame Call


Bissett, Kevin, The Canadian Press


O'Ree hopes for Hockey Hall of Fame call

--

FREDERICTON - It has been a big year so far for Willie O'Ree -- full of accolades as he marked 60 years since becoming the first black player in the National Hockey League -- but there's one more honour O'Ree, his friends, and fans are hoping for.

The league will announce Tuesday if he'll be among this year's inductees into the Hockey Hall of Fame, as a builder.

The New Brunswick-born O'Ree said he plans to stay close to the phone, hoping to get a call from Lanny MacDonald, chairman of the Hall of Fame board.

"I'm just leaving Tuesday open," he said, but added that he'll have his fingers crossed.

O'Ree played just 45 games in the NHL, but his supporters say his true legacy will be the work he continues to do as diversity ambassador and the Hockey is for Everyone program to encourage children of colour to play the game.

"He is just like a pied piper. He has influenced tens of thousands of children to have a dream and to chase that dream," said David Sansom, a close friend in O'Ree's hometown of Fredericton, N.B., and one of the people responsible for a 76-page submission to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

"Getting into the Hall of Fame -- it's long overdue," Sansom said.

O'Ree's first game with the Boston Bruins was in a 3-0 win over the Canadians in Montreal on January 18, 1958, but he didn't know the significance until reading a newspaper the next day that said he had broken the NHL's colour barrier.

"It was a nice feeling. I just happened to be playing and just happened to be black," he said.

He would play just one more game with the Bruins that season.

O'Ree would return to the Bruins for the 1960-61 season, playing a total of 45 games in the NHL -- scoring four goals and 10 assists -- all while keeping a secret that would have kept him out of the league. He was blind in one eye.

O'Ree left Fredericton at the age of 17 to play junior hockey with the Quebec Frontenacs, and the next year he moved to Kitchener, Ont. It was during that second year in junior that he had an unfortunate accident.

"There was a slapshot, and I'm on the ice in front of the net. A ricochet came up and the puck struck me in the eye. I lost 97 per cent vision in my right eye. I was out of action for about six weeks," he said.

Following his stint within the Bruins, O'Ree played in other leagues for teams in Ottawa, Los Angeles and San Diego -- where he continues to live. …

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