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Willie O'Ree

Willie O'Ree
Born (1935-10-15) October 15, 1935
Fredericton, NB, CAN
Height 5 ft 10 in (178 cm)
Weight 175 lb (79 kg; 12 st 7 lb)
Position Winger
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]

Contents

  • Playing career 1
  • Impact on hockey 2
  • Honours/inductions 3
  • Awards 4
  • Career statistics 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Playing career

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 right wing Jerry Toppazzini. He scored 4 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

After O'Ree's stint in the NHL, there were no other black players in the NHL until another Canadian player, 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] Robin Bawa was the first man 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

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 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 Sports Museum at TD Garden in Boston 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

  • WHL Second All-Star Team (1969)
  • Lester Patrick Award (2000)
  • Order of New Brunswick (2005)
  • Willie O'Ree Place (Fredericton arena, dedicated 2008)[13]
  • Order of Canada[14] (2008)
  • Breitbard Hall of Fame (2008)

Career statistics

    Regular season   Playoffs
Season Team League GP G A Pts PIM GP G A Pts PIM
1950–51 Fredericton Falcons NBAHA ? ? ? ? ? 2 0 0 0 4
1951–52 Fredericton Merchants YCHL 6 10 4 14 2 8 10 5 15 18
1951–52 Fredericton Jr. Capitals NBJHL 3 2 0 2 0
1952–53 Fredericton Jr. Capitals NBJHL 12 15 3 18 6 4 5 0 5 2
1952–53 Fredericton Capitals NBSHL 2 2 0 2 0
1953–54 Fredericton Capitals NBSHL 23 7 11 18 15 25 15 10 25 10
1954–55 Quebec Frontenacs QJHL 43 27 17 44 41 17 7 6 13 10
1955–56 Kitchener Canucks OHA-Jr. 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 Charms SoCal-Sr. ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
1975–76 San Diego Charms SoCal-Sr. ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
1978–79 San Diego Hawks PHL 53 21 25 46 37
NHL totals (2 seasons) 45 4 10 14 26
WHL totals (13 seasons) 785 328 311 639 669 55 25 28 53 52
QHL totals (3 seasons) 181 44 52 96 197 19 7 5 12 18
EPHL totals (3 seasons) 78 32 36 68 80

Notes

  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

  1. ^ Playing days at end, Grier looks for new goals - Sports - The Boston Globe
  2. ^ Steve Murphy, interviewer with  
  3. ^ Burnett, Thane (2007-12-07). "Willie O'Ree: The first black NHL player".  
  4. ^ McGourty, John (2007-01-15). "O'Ree a hockey pioneer". NHL.com. Retrieved 2015-06-09. 
  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. 
  10. ^ "Pioneering NHL Player Visits SDSU", SDSUniverse, October 20, 2008
  11. ^ "O'Ree receives Order of Canada", NHL.com, April 07, 2010.
  12. ^ Auerbach, Nicole (28 June 2011). "O’Ree scores in NHL’s effort to diversify hockey". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 7 July 2015. 
  13. ^ Stevens, Neil (2008-01-17). "Groundbreaking NHL debut still vivid for O'Ree". Niagara Falls Review (Niagara Falls, Ontario). Archived from the original on 2015-01-17. Retrieved 2015-01-17. 
  14. ^ "First black NHL player honoured with Order of Canada".  

External links

  • Willie O'Ree's career statistics at The Internet Hockey Database
  • Willie O'Ree at Hockey-Reference.com
  • Willie O'Ree's player profile at NHL.com
  • Soul on Ice: The Willie O'Ree Story
  • Black Players in the NHL
  • 2007 CTV interview with Willie O'Ree on YouTube
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