The Boston Bruins have announced they will retire Willie O’Ree’s number 22. O’Ree was the NHL’s first black player, making his debut on Jan 18, 1958.
He said that he got the call when he was in his backyard from Bruins team president Cam Neely. O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018, as a builder. Prior to his NHL Debut, in 1956, a puck hit him in his right eye, blinding him.
“I’m overwhelmed and thrilled about having my Bruins jersey hung up in the rafters,” O’Ree told to ESPN.
O’Ree is the 12th player in Bruins history to have his number retired by the organization and the first since Rick Middleton had his number 16 retired in 2018. O’Ree is also the third black player in NHL history to have his jersey retired after Grant Fuhr with the Edmonton Oilers and Jarome Iginla with the Calgary Flames.
O’Ree retired after the 1960-61 season, compiling a stat line of 10 goals and 4 assists in 45 games. He managed to play until 1979 however, spending 13 in the WHL.
This comes after the NHL had previously announced that they would have every player wear helmet decals depicting O’Ree in a fedora, a style that he became known for. The helmet decals will be worn throughout the month of February to celebrate Black History Month. They will also have the words, “Celebrating Equality”. This all comes in a league that has dealt with racial issues over the last few years including New York Rangers defenseman K’Andre Miller, continually being called the “N-word” in a fan chat, when he signed out of the University of Wisconsin in April of 2020.
This also comes after former NHL player Akim Alie wrote in The Players Tribune in May of 2020 detailing the racial, physical and mental abuse he received from former NHLer Steve Downie and coach Bill Peters while he was in the OHL with the Windsor Spitfires and in the AHL with the Rockford Ice Hogs.
“It possibly could have happened sooner,” O’Ree said to ESPN. “Sometimes things take a little longer.”