The Boston Bruins announced on Tuesday that they plan to honor Willie O’Ree by retiring his jersey number 22 in a ceremony on Feb. 18 before a game against the New Jersey Devils. O’Ree becomes the 12th Bruins player to have his number retired.
O’Ree became the first black player to play in an NHL game on Jan. 18, 1958, when he dressed for the Bruins against the Canadiens. He remarked after the game: “It was the greatest thrill of my life, I believe. I will always remember this day.”
He played two games for the Bruins that season, then 43 games in 1960-61. O’Ree then played 13 seasons in the Western Hockey League before retiring from hockey in 1979.
The Hockey Hall of Fame inducted O’Ree in 2018 under the “Builder” category, defined as “coaching, managerial or executive ability, or ability in another significant off-ice role, sportsmanship, character and contributions to his or her organization or organizations and to the game of hockey in general.”
O’Ree has served as a Diversity Ambassador for the NHL since 1998.
“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,” said Bruins President Cam Neely. “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.”
Bruins forward Craig Smith, who signed as a free agent in the offseason, currently wears No. 22. So he’ll have to pick a new number in short order.