[UPDATE: The NHL and Bruins have decided to push back this ceremony until Jan. 18, 2022, the 64th anniversary of O’Ree’s first game.
“We hope and expect the change will enable us all to commemorate this moment in a way that matches the magnitude of Willie’s impact – in front of a TD Garden crowd packed with passionate Bruins fans, who can express their admiration and appreciation for Willie and create the meaningful moment he has earned throughout his incredible career.”]
Willie O’Ree will receive another honor this season when the Bruins retire his No. 22 jersey before their Feb. 18 game against New Jersey.
“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,” said Bruins President Cam Neely. “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.”
During a game on Jan. 18, 1958, O’Ree became the first Black player to play in an NHL game when he suited up for the Bruins. While he spent most of his hockey career in the minors, playing only 45 games in Boston his biggest impact has come out of uniform.
After his player career ended, O’Ree dedicated his life to growing the game at the grassroots level. Since 1998 he’s been the Diversity Ambassador for the NHL, helping out their Hockey is For Everyone campaign. His work resulted in him being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018 in the “Builder” category.
[Anson Carter: What Willie O’Ree’s Hall of Fame induction means to me]
“My dad said, ‘Willie, find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,’ and there’s a lot of truth to that,” O’Ree told NBC Sports in 2019. “Find something that you really enjoy doing and it doesn’t seem like a job. That’s the position I have with the Hockey is For Everyone program, getting around to meeting these kids and helping them set goals for themselves and helping them become better citizens and believing in themselves. You have to believe in yourself. If you feel good [in your heart] and [in your head] then you can do anything you can set your mind to do.”
O’Ree will be the 12th player have his number honored by the Bruins, and first since Rick Middleton in 2018.
According ton the Bruins, COVID-19 restrictions mean there will likely not be fans in attendance for the ceremony. But they say O’Ree will be honored again when it’s safe to welcome a sold out TD Garden crowd.
The NHL announced on Monday that all players will wear a helmet decal from Jan. 16 to the end of February in honor of O’Ree and to observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the U.S.
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.