Willie O’Ree, first Black player in NHL, to have his number retired by Bruins

BOSTON (WHDH) - Willie O’Ree, the first Black player to break into the NHL more than 60 years ago, will have his No. 22 retired by the Boston Bruins in February, the organization announced Tuesday.

A number retirement ceremony will be held to honor O’Ree before the Bruins play host to the New Jersey Devils at TD Garden on Feb. 18.

“On behalf of the Boston Bruins organization, I would like to congratulate Willie O’Ree, as well as his wife, Deljeet, and his daughter, Chandra, on having his number retired in the TD Garden rafters,” Boston Bruins President Cam Neely said in a statement. “Willie’s contributions to the game of hockey transcend on-ice accomplishments and have opened countless doors for players who have come after him. He is without question deserving of this honor.”

O’Ree, 85, of Fredericton, New Brunswick, made his history when he joined the Bruins for a game against the rival Montreal Canadiens in 1958, despite being legally blind in one eye.

“It was the greatest thrill of my life, I believe. I will always remember this day,” O’Ree said after the game.

O’Ree played two games with the Bruins before being sent to the minors. He joined the team again during the 1960-61 season, scoring four goals and 14 points in 43 games. He was then traded to the Canadiens, but he never dressed for the club. He spent 13 seasons in the Western Hockey League before officially retiring in 1979.

“Throughout the history of the National Hockey League, there have been very few individuals that have had such a profound impact on the league and its culture than Willie O’Ree,” Boston Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs said. “After breaking the color barrier as a Boston Bruin in 1958 and eventually retiring from professional hockey in 1979, Willie became the ultimate ambassador for improving diversity and inclusion within the game of hockey. The entire hockey world is forever indebted to Willie for all that he has done, and continues to do, for the sport. We are incredibly proud to retire Willie’s number and cement his legacy as one of Boston’s greatest athletes.”

O’Ree is the 12th player to have his sweater honored by the Bruins in franchise history.

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