Willie O'Ree

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Willie O'Ree
Born (1935-10-15) October 15, 1935 (age 79)
Fredericton, NB, CAN
Height 5 ft 10 in (178 cm)
Weight 180 lb (82 kg; 12 st 12 lb)
Position Right Wing
Shot Left
Played for Boston Bruins
Playing career 1957–1979

Willie Eldon O'Ree, CM, ONB (born October 15, 1935, in Fredericton, New Brunswick) is a Canadian former professional ice hockey player, known best for being the first black player in the National Hockey League. O'Ree played as a winger for the Boston Bruins. O'Ree is referred to as the "Jackie Robinson of ice hockey" due to breaking the black color barrier in the sport,[1][NB 1] and has stated publicly that he had met Jackie Robinson twice in his own younger years.[2]

Playing career[edit]

Midway through his second minor-league season with the Quebec Aces, O'Ree was called up to the Boston Bruins of the NHL to replace an injured player. O'Ree was 95% blind in his right eye due to being hit there by an errant puck two years earlier,[3] which normally would have precluded him from playing in the NHL. However, O'Ree managed to keep it secret, and made his NHL debut with the Bruins on January 18, 1958, against the Montreal Canadiens, becoming the first black player in league history, appearing in two games that year, and came back in 1961 to play 43 games, playing with Boston centreman Don McKenney and winger Jerry Toppazzini. He scored four goals and 10 assists in his NHL career, all in 1961.

O'Ree noted that "racist remarks were much worse in the U.S. cities than in Toronto and Montreal," the two Canadian cities hosting NHL teams at the time, and that "Fans would yell, 'Go back to the South' and 'How come you're not picking cotton?' Things like that. It didn't bother me. I just wanted to be a hockey player, and if they couldn't accept that fact, that was their problem, not mine."[4]

In the minor leagues, O'Ree won two scoring titles in the Western Hockey League (WHL) between 1961 and 1974, scoring thirty or more goals four times, with a high of 38 in 1964–65 and 1968–69. Most of O'Ree's playing time was with the WHL's Los Angeles Blades and San Diego Gulls. The latter team retired his number, now hanging from the rafters at the San Diego Sports Arena. O'Ree continued to play in the minors until the age of 43.

Impact on hockey[edit]

After O'Ree's stint in the NHL, there were no other black players in the NHL until another Canadian player, Mike Marson, was drafted by the Washington Capitals in 1974. There were 17 black players in the NHL as of the mid-2000s, the most prominent being Canadian (and current Colorado Avalanche forward) Jarome Iginla. Art Dorrington was the first black player to sign an NHL contract, in 1950 with the New York Rangers organization, but never played beyond the minor league level. NHL players are now required to enroll in a diversity training seminar before each season, and racially based verbal abuse is punished through suspensions and fines.[citation needed] While O'Ree was the first black player in the NHL, Larry Kwong, a Canadian of Chinese descent, first broke racial barriers when he played one game for the New York Rangers against the Montreal Canadiens on March 13, 1948.[5] Manny Malhotra is the second Indian player in NHL, playing for the Vancouver Canucks, playing in total of 864 NHL games. Robin Bawa is the first person of Indian descent to play in the NHL, where he achieved six goals and one assist in 61 games, while collecting 60 penalty minutes.

Honours/inductions[edit]

O'Ree was inducted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 1984. In 1998, O'Ree was working at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, California when the National Hockey League approached him to be the director of youth development for its diversity task force.[6] The NHL/USA Hockey Diversity Task Force is a non-profit program for minority youth that encourages them to learn and play hockey. As of the mid-2000s, O'Ree lives in Berkeley, California.

On the afternoon of January 19, 2008, the Bruins and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly honoured O'Ree at TD Garden in Boston to mark the 50th anniversary of his NHL debut. In addition, The Sports Museum of New England located in the TD Garden, established a special exhibit on O'Ree's career, comprising many items on loan from his personal collection.[7]

Those in attendance included a busload of friends from O'Ree's hometown of Fredericton. Two days earlier, the City of Fredericton honoured him by naming a new sports complex on the North side after him.[8] On January 27, 2008, the NHL also honoured O'Ree during the 56th National Hockey League All-Star Game in Atlanta, Georgia. On February 5, 2008, ESPN did a special on him in honour of Black History Month.[9]

On October 29, 2008, San Diego State University presented O'Ree with an Award for Outstanding Commitment to Diversity and Cross Cultural Understanding.[10]

In 2008, O'Ree was also inducted by the San Diego Hall of Champions into the Breitbard Hall of Fame honouring San Diego's finest athletes both on and off the playing surface.[1]

On April 7, 2010, O'Ree received the Order of Canada, the highest civilian award for a Canadian citizen. He was honoured as a pioneer of hockey and dedicated youth mentor in Canada along with the U.S.[11]

On June 28, 2011, the Boston Sports Museum honoured O'Ree with the Hockey Legacy Award at the 10th Annual "The Tradition." Other honourees that evening included Larry Bird, Mike Lowell, and Ty Law.[12]

Awards[edit]

Career statistics[edit]

    Regular season   Playoffs
Season Team League GP G A Pts PIM GP G A Pts PIM
1951–52 Fredericton City (Sr.) 6 10 4 14 2 8 10 5 15 18
1951–52 Fredericton NBJHL 3 2 0 2 0
1952–53 Fredericton NBJHL 12 15 3 18 6 4 5 0 5 2
1952–53 Fredericton NBSHL 2 2 0 2 0
1953–54 Fredericton NBSHL 23 7 11 18 15 25 15 10 25 10
1954–55 Quebec QJHL 43 27 17 44 41 17 7 6 13 10
1955–56 Kitchener Canucks OHA 41 30 28 58 38 8 4 3 7 6
1956–57 Quebec Aces QHL 68 22 12 34 80 15 3 3 6 10
1957–58 Boston Bruins NHL 2 0 0 0 0
1957–58 Springfield Indians AHL 6 0 0 0 0
1957–58 Quebec Aces QHL 57 13 19 32 43 9 4 2 6 8
1958–59 Quebec Aces QHL 56 9 21 30 74
1959–60 Kingston Frontenacs EPHL 50 21 25 46 41
1960–61 Boston Bruins NHL 43 4 10 14 26
1960–61 Hull-Ottawa Canadiens EPHL 16 10 9 19 21
1961–62 Hull-Ottawa Canadiens EPHL 12 1 2 3 18
1961–62 Los Angeles Blades WHL 54 28 26 54 57
1962–63 Los Angeles Blades WHL 64 25 26 51 41 3 2 3 5 2
1963–64 Los Angeles Blades WHL 60 17 18 35 45 12 4 8 12 10
1964–65 Los Angeles Blades WHL 70 38 21 59 75
1965–66 Los Angeles Blades WHL 62 33 33 66 30
1966–67 Los Angeles Blades WHL 68 34 26 60 58
1967–68 San Diego Gulls WHL 66 21 33 54 54 7 2 2 4 6
1968–69 San Diego Gulls WHL 70 38 41 79 63 7 3 3 6 12
1969–70 San Diego Gulls WHL 66 24 22 46 50 6 6 3 9 4
1970–71 San Diego Gulls WHL 66 18 15 33 47 6 4 1 5 14
1971–72 San Diego Gulls WHL 48 16 17 33 42 4 0 1 1 2
1972–73 New Haven Nighthawks AHL 50 21 24 45 41
1972–73 San Diego Gulls WHL 18 6 5 11 18 6 1 4 5 2
1973–74 San Diego Gulls WHL 73 30 28 58 89 4 3 3 6 0
1974–75 San Diego Sharks PSHL  ??  ??  ??  ??  ??  ??  ??  ??  ??  ??
1975–76 San Diego Sharks PSHL  ?  ??  ??  ??  ??  ?  ??  ?  ??  ??
1976-77 San Diego Sharks PSHL  ?  ??  ??  ??  ??  ?  ??  ?  ??  ??
1977-78 San Diego Sharks PSHL
1978–79 San Diego Hawks PHL 60 30 24 54 37
NHL totals 45 4 10 14 26

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Larry Kwong first broke the NHL's colour barrier in 1948, being ethnic Chinese, a decade before O'Ree's debut in 1958, O'Ree was the first black player in the NHL.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Playing days at end, Grier looks for new goals - Sports - The Boston Globe
  2. ^ Steve Murphy, interviewer with CTV News in Halifax, NS (2007). Willie O'Ree - First Black NHL Player (YouTube). heathernocs. Event occurs at 4:31. Retrieved August 8, 2013. 
  3. ^ Burnett, Thane (2007-12-07). "Willie O'Ree: The first black NHL player". Sun Media. Retrieved 2008-01-30. 
  4. ^ McGourty, John (2007-01-15). "O'Ree a hockey pioneer". NHL.com. Retrieved 2008-01-30. [dead link]
  5. ^ Larry Kwong - Kwong Made History 60 Years Ago Today - New York Rangers
  6. ^ Sports Illustrated, July 14–21, purple, p. 78, vol 109, #2, Time Inc.
  7. ^ Associated Press (2008-01-19). "New England sports museum unveils O'Ree exhibit". ESPN. Retrieved 2008-02-17. 
  8. ^ Smith, Roger (2008-01-19). "Hockey pioneer honoured in the U.S. and Canada". CTV. Retrieved 2008-02-15. 
  9. ^ Rosen, Dan (2008-01-19). "NHL pioneer O'Ree honored by Bruins". NHL.com. Retrieved 2008-01-30. [dead link]
  10. ^ "Pioneering NHL Player Visits SDSU", SDSUniverse, October 20, 2008
  11. ^ "O'Ree receives Order of Canada", NHL.com, April 07, 2010.
  12. ^ O’Ree scores in NHL’s effort to diversify hockey - Boston.com
  13. ^ "Willie O'Ree remembers his groundbreaking NHL debut like it was yesterday". Canadian Press. 2008-01-16. Retrieved 2008-01-30. [dead link]
  14. ^ "First black NHL player honoured with Order of Canada". CTV News. Retrieved 2008-12-30. 

External links[edit]