Willie O’Ree, The First Black NHL Player, Set To Have His Jersey Retired


Willie O’Ree, the first Black player in the National Hockey League, will have his jersey retired on February 18. 

O’Ree played for the Boston Bruins sporting the number 22 jersey on his team. 

He made his NHL debut on January 18, 1958, according to the Boston Globe, in a game against the Montreal Canadiens. 

“It was the greatest thrill of my life, I believe. I will always remember this day,” Willie told reporters following the game. 

Willie, who was legally blind in one eye, went on to retire from professional hockey in 1979, but continued working to increase diversity in the league.

According to Because of Them We Can, Willie has been an ambassador for the NHL since 1998, putting his efforts behind initiatives like “Hockey Is For Everyone” to bring the game to communities.

“On behalf of the Boston Bruins organization I would like to congratulate Willie O’Ree as well as his wife, Deljeet, and his daughter, Chandra, on having his number retired in the TD Garden rafters,” Bruins president Cam Neely said. 

Though fans will probably not be in attendance at the ceremony, given COVID-19 restrictions, Willie’s achievements on and off the ice will be celebrated by his former team. 

“Willie’s contributions to the game of hockey transcend on-ice accomplishments and have opened countless doors for players who have come after him. He is without question deserving of this honor.”

O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018, an honor that celebrated his sportsmanship, and greater contributions to the game. 

He will be only the 12th person to have their jersey retired by the Bruins. 

Photos: Getty Images