First Black player in the National Hockey League
At 83-years-old Willie O’Ree still commands attention.
Articulate and poised, the man who became the first Black player in the National Hockey League 60 years ago remains a powerful ambassador for the game and an inspiration for the generation of stars following in the tracks of his skates.
O’Ree, who at 22 years of age made his debut on January 18, 1958 as a winger with the Boston Bruins in a game against the Montreal Canadiens. The Bruins won.
A few nights later he played in the return game in Boston before he was sent back to the minor leagues with the Quebec Aces, where he continued to build his spectacular career on the ice.
Four years later, in 1961, O’Ree eventually made it back to the NHL, playing 43 games, and leaving his mark as a pioneer in the league.
Unswerving in his love for the game, the Fredericton, New Brunswick native faced barrages of racial taunts from opposing players and fans but he remained unmoved.
And in a funny way, those experiences served him well, leading up to 1998 when he was named NHL’s diversity ambassador, with a focus on creating opportunities for historically marginalized children. Then in 2018 he was inducted as a Builder into the Hockey Hall of Fame. It follows his induction in the New Brunswick Hall Of Fame in 1984.
In 2008, he received Canada’s highest civilian award when he was named to the Order Of Canada.
O’Ree’s inspiring life was the subject of a recently completed documentary which follows his journey in the NHL Original Six from his rookie year in 1958 in Boston to rinks in Detroit, Chicago, New York, Montreal and Toronto and his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The film is directed by Laurence Mathieu-Leger, and features never-before-seen home movie footage, original interviews, and first-person accounts from friends and family across North America. It premiered on Monday, April 29, at Hot Docs 2019 Festival.
For more details about the documentary, visit WillieDoc.com.