Six decades after he broke the National Hockey League’s color barrier and broke into the league with the Boston Bruins, Willie O’Ree is finally getting his due and has been named part of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s 2018 class.
O’Ree, an ambassador to the game for years now, became the first black player to compete in an NHL game on Jan. 18, 1958, when he dressed for the Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens, despite being legally blind in one eye.
Following the game, O’Ree said, “It was the greatest thrill of my life, I believe. I will always remember this day.”
“Willie is a pioneer and tremendous ambassador for the game of hockey, and on behalf of the Bruins organization I would like to congratulate Willie and his family on today’s announcement that he will be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame,” Bruins team president Cam Neely said. “The courage he showed 60 years ago when he broke the league’s color barrier while wearing a Bruins sweater is an inspiration, and his work today continues to grow the game of hockey and spread the message that hockey is for everyone.”
“On behalf of the Boston Bruins organization, I’d like to congratulate Willie on being elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2018,” Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs added. “This honor is long overdue as Willie has been a tremendous figure in our game both on and off the ice for over 60 years. We are lucky to have been able to call Willie a Bruin when he made his debut in 1958 and we could not be happier for him to finally receive the recognition he so greatly deserves.”
O’Ree played two games with the Bruins before being sent to the minors in 1958, and joined the team again during the 1960-61 season, scoring four goals and 14 points in 43 games. O’Ree then was 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.
Martin Brodeur, Marty St. Louis, Jayna Hefford, Alexander Yakushev, and Gary Bettman join O’Ree as part of the ’18 class.