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O’Ree Enjoys No. 22 Retirement In ‘Amazing’ Boston Bruins Ceremony

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It was never going to be an ideal Boston Bruns ceremony for the retirement of Willie O’Ree’s No. 22 jersey with the 86-year-old Hall of Famer unable to make to TD Garden in person due to the ongoing COVID pandemic. But the B’s still put on a first class show of appreciation and love for the trailblazing O’Ree on the 56th anniversary of his breaking the color barrier by playing in an NHL game for the Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens.

O’Ree watched via Zoom from his California home with his wife Deljeet and daughter Chandra, and former Boston Bruins forward Anson Carter raised the No. 22 banner in Boston via a packed TD Garden house celebrating the courageous O’Ree. The honors were many from the city of Boston making Jan. 18 Willie O’Ree Day to the US House of Representatives awarding O’Ree with the US Congressional Gold Medal, to another former No. 22 for the Boston Bruins making sure he was in the house to honor O’Ree as well.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was also in the house at TD Garden as well to see his friend O’Ree honored after decades working for the league as a Diversity Ambassador.

“More than 8,200 players have suited up for at least one game in the National Hockey League’s 105-year history,” said Bettman. “Willie O’Ree is among the select few who made a unique, transformative and enduring contribution to the NHL.

“Merely by stepping onto the ice at the Montreal Forum in a Boston Bruins sweater 64 years ago, Willie truly changed our game. He has spent every day since not only living his life as a role model to be emulated and admired but working tirelessly to personally connect with and inspire thousands of children with his life story and life lessons our sport imparts.”

It was surely a bit overwhelming for O’Ree after the Boston Bruins bestowed a number of gifts on the Hall of Famer on Monday, including a custom-made Boston Bruins fedora from none other than B’s hat enthusiast David Pastrnak.

But as with everything in his life, O’Ree approached the retirement ceremony with grace, humility and exactly the kind of thoughtful approach that gave him the tools he would need to break through the NHL color barrier back in 1958.

“This is just a memorable evening not just for myself, but for my family,” O’Ree said following the ceremony. “To have my number retired and hanging up in the rafters with so many other great hockey players that have played for the Bruins, it’s just amazing.

“I will never forget how my teammates in the Bruins locker room accepted me as one of their own. This was a time when some of the fans and opposing players were not ready to see a Black man in the NHL. [My older brother Richard] used to say, ‘Willie, focus on your goals you set for yourself, work hard and stay positive. This is what I tried to do as a member of the Bruins every time I put on the jersey.”

O’Ree has done that and then some while inspiring generations of black hockey players to come after him, including longtime NHLers like Joel Ward and Wayne Simmonds.

That’s the true O’Ree legacy as the NHL embraces diversity and a “Hockey is For Everyone” credo that he lived long before it was truly embraced by the entire hockey world.

 

 

Joe Haggerty has covered the Boston Bruins and the NHL for 18 years with NBC Sports Boston, WEEI.com, the Boston Metro and the Woburn Daily Times, and currently serves as lead Bruins reporter and columnist for Boston Hockey Now. Haggs always strives to capture the spirt of the thing any way that he can.

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Fred

I understand the historical significance of Willie O’Ree being the first black player in the NHL and the courage it took for him to pursue a career in hockey, but he was a below average player who only skated in 45 games. Retired numbers should be for the best players and nothing else. Brad Park was easily the best player to ever wear number 22 for the Bruins and he even played more games for the Bruins than he did for the Rangers. If his career didn’t overlap Bobby Orr and Ray Bourque, he would have easily won several Norris… Read more »

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