After watching his No. 22 ascend to it’s rightful place in the TD Garden rafters from San Diego via Zoom on January 18, former Boston Bruins player, hall of famer and NHL Diversity Ambassador Willie O’Ree was finally able to look up at the retired number in person this past weekend.
O’Ree was in Boston for Willie O’Ree Skills Weekend and just before the Boston Bruins defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-2 Saturday night, the legendary and always affable O’Ree looked up from the benches and took in the full magnitude of his number being retired by an original 6 franchise like the Boston Bruins.
“Yes, that’s very nice,” O’Ree told NHL.com. “Walking into TD Garden and actually seeing it is really great. I never dreamed in my lifetime that my number would be retired and hanging up in the rafters.”
The 86-year-old O’Ree, wearing his trademark fedora, was honored before the game Saturday and received a standing ovation from the Boston Bruins faithful.
Prior to a 7-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Jan. 18, the Boston Bruins honored the trailblazing Willie 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. With O’Ree watching with his family via Zoom, as former Boston Bruins forward Anson Carter raised the No. 22 banner in Boston via a packed TD Garden house celebrating the courageous O’Ree.
Absolutely the highlight of this night. Great ceremony for Willie O’Ree by the Boston Bruins prior to puck drop pic.twitter.com/ib25wrFdlp
— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) January 19, 2022
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.
As he always seems to do, O’Ree was in Boston this past weekend uniting people via the game of hockey and with his bigger than life personality and heart. O’Ree, along with 57 boys and girls from 17 Hockey is for Everyone programs across North America participated in the Willie O’Ree Skills Weekend on its final day. The event was hosted by the Bruins, the NHL and SCORE Boston, a Hockey is for Everyone affiliate.
There were games at Agganis Arena at Boston University and Warrior Ice Arena, the Bruins’ practice facility, before everyone took in the Blue Jackets-Bruins games. Ice Hockey in Harlem, Washington, D.C.’s Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club, Philadelphia’s Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, the Flint Inner City Youth Hockey Program, HEROS Hockey of Canada, the Detroit Ice Dreams Youth Hockey Association and the Columbus Ice Hockey Club were all represented.
“The programs have grown over the years and there are more kids playing hockey than before,” O’Ree said. “It’s a nice feeling to know that I had a small part in getting these boys and girls on the ice and helping them set goals for themselves and become good citizens.”