FREDERICTON— Willie O’Ree, the first black player in the National Hockey League, was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame on Tuesday.
O’Ree, 82, who hails from Fredericton, New Brunswick, will be the third black player in the Hall, joining Edmonton Oilers goalie Grant Fuhr and Canadian women’s national team captain Angela James.
On January 18, 1958, O’Ree was called up by the Boston Bruins, making him the first Black player in league history
His s first game with the Boston Bruins ended with a 3-0 win over the Canadiens in Montreal. But he didn’t realize the significance of the match until reading a newspaper the next day, which confirmed 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.
Following his stint within the Bruins, O’Ree played in other leagues for teams in Ottawa, Los Angeles and San Diego, all the while keeping the secret that an injury had left him blind in his right eye.
“Willie is a pioneer and tremendous ambassador for the game of hockey,” Bruins president Cam Neely said in a statement. “The courage he showed 60 years ago when he broke the League’s color barrier while wearing a Bruins sweater is an inspiration, and his work today continues to grow the game of hockey and spread the message that hockey is for everyone.” ,
PK Subban, a black professional hockey player from Toronto, said on twitter that he was excited to learn that O’Ree is going to be inducted in to the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder.
Subbhan said that looking back on his own career and accomplishments, he realized that ” none of it would have been possible without the sacrifices that Willie O’Ree and others made.”
“So congratulations .It has been a great summer for the game of hockey.”
There are now about two dozen black players on NHL rosters
The 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame induction celebration is set for Nov. 12