Like Boston Bruins winger David Pastrnak, former Bruins winger and hall of famer Willie O’Ree takes great pride in his style and appearance. That’s why Pastrnak and his Boston Bruins teammates decided that a new fedora would be a cool and unique gift for O’Ree when they met with him virtually on Monday, a day before O’Ree’s No. 22 goes to the TD Garden rafters and is retired by the Bruins.
“I think it’s a great honor for Willie,” Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said in a media Zoom call Tuesday. “A retired jersey, congressional medal of honor, everything that goes along with that. And a nice, snazzy fedora, too. I liked that. That was a nice touch by ‘Pasta’ and the Bruins.
"You've inspired so many…on and off the ice…we're so happy and proud for you."
On Monday, our team gathered to congratulate Willie O'Ree and present him with a few surprises in honor of his No. 22 heading to the TD Garden rafters.#NHLBruins | #Willie22 pic.twitter.com/qALW0Dtwjz
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) January 18, 2022
Prior to the Boston Bruins hosting the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; SNE, SNO, TVAS, NESN, BSSO, ESPN+, NHL LIVE), a banner bearing O’Ree’s name and the No. 22 he wore as the first Black player in the NHL will join 11 other retired numbers for the Bruins. Tuesday is also the 64th anniversary of O’Ree’s NHL debut with the Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens at the Montreal Forum in 1958. Sadly, due to COVID, O’Ree will participate virtually.
O’Ree will join Lionel Hitchman (No. 3. 1934), Dip Clapper (No. 5, 1947), Shore (No. 2, 1949), Milt Schmidt (No. 15, 1957), Bobby Orr (No. 4, 1979), Johnny Bucyk (No. 9, 1980), Phil Esposito No. 7, 1987), Ray Bourque (No. 77, 2001), Terry O’Reilly (No. 24, 2002), Cam Neely (No. 8, 2004) and Rick Middleton (No. 16, 2018), in the NHL rafters.
“I think it’s a great honor for Willie. A retired jersey, congressional medal of honor, everything that goes along with it,” Cassidy said. “I can’t say enough good things about Willie. I always enjoy talking to him. It’s unfortunate with the COVID times he’s not able to be here in person. I think it’s always a great opportunity to just chat and catch up. But good for Willie, a trailblazer to say the least. I’m very happy for him and his family and I think the whole Bruins organization is looking forward to it.”
in 1956, O’Ree was hit in the face with a puck, leaving him 95% blind in his right eye. He never revealed the severity of the injury until after he retired from professional hockey following a season with the San Diego Hawks (PHL) in 1979.
“We don’t know what he had to endure,” Cassidy later said. “To keep being resilient and play through (the adversity) and find his way to the National Hockey League — including his health, right? He had an eye injury that probably no one knew but himself. A lot of adversity for him to go through, like a Jackie Robinson and different people that were first in line to fight through certain situations. I think our guys have a ton of respect for that.”
Cassidy wasn’t done and made sure to thank the pioneer O’Ree one more time.
“Willie, thank you,” Cassidy said. “Thank you for paving the way for a lot of young men to emulate you, look up to you, and probably gave them a goal to achieve to make it to the National Hockey League or just be a professional player or a hockey player in general.”
Fans are advised to get to TD Garden early for the O’Ree ceremony and the Bruins’ game against the Carolina Hurricanes.