Bruins to retire Willie O’Ree’s jersey in 2021

Celebrities Attend NHL All Star Game

The Boston Bruins will retire Willie O'Ree's No. 22 and raise it into the rafters this season, honoring him for being the NHL's first Black player.

"I was a Montreal Canadiens fan in my teens because Toronto and Montreal were the only two teams in the National Hockey League, but when I went to my first Bruins training camp in 1957 I became a Bruins fan". The players will wear the stickers from January 16 and throughout Black History Month in February.

The Canada native, who was the only Black player to play in the NHL until 1974, has been active in trying to break down hockey's color barrier after his playing days. "I was at a loss for words.I'm overwhelmed and thrilled", he said. He had 14 goals in 43 games during the 1960-61 season. O'Ree, who was legally blind in one eye, played two seasons for the Bruins, retiring from professional hockey in 1979.

On Monday, the NHL announced that every player in the league will wear a decal on their helmets featuring a picture of O'Ree and the message "celebrating equality". Despite this regrettable circumstance, the organization believes that it is important to move forward with a virtual pre-game ceremony and bestow this honor on Willie. "To honor a guy who broke barriers is huge".

In 2018, in celebration of the 60th anniversary of O'Ree's first game, the NHL and the Bruins donated to Boston parks and recreation a refurbished street hockey rink, dedicated "Willie O'Ree Rink," at Smith Field in Allston. He played just 45 games in his National Hockey League career.

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He enjoyed a lengthy and prolific minor league career, mostly in the old Western Hockey League. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto in 2018 in the "Builder" category.

He helped establish 39 grassroots hockey programs in North America as part of the Hockey Is For Everyone initiative and has inspired more than 120,000 boys and girls to play the sport.

With Massachusetts' COVID-19 restrictions now prohibiting fans from being in attendance at Bruins games, it is likely O'Ree will be honored in a mostly empty Garden.

The Bruins, anticipating that it's unlikely that fans will be allowed at TD Garden by mid-February. "He is without question deserving of this honor", Bruins President Cam Neely said in a statement.

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