By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Bruins and Willie O’Ree, the first player to break the National Hockey League’s color barrier, have decided to push his upcoming number retirement ceremony to 2022, the NHL confirmed in a statement Thursday.
“After consultation with Willie and the Bruins, we have respectfully asked that the banner-raising be postponed until January 18, 2022 – 64 years to the date that Willie became the first Black player in NHL history,” the NHL said in a statement. “We hope and expect the change will enable us all to commemorate this moment in a way that matches the magnitude of Willie’s impact – in front of a TD Garden crowd packed with passionate Bruins fans, who can express their admiration and appreciation for Willie and create the meaningful moment he has earned throughout his incredible career.”
The league’s release went to note that both O’Ree and the Bruins “graciously agreed to this change.”
Announced as the latest player to see his number raised to the TD Garden rafters last month, the decision to move O’Ree’s ceremony to next year comes less than a week before its original scheduled date, which was Feb. 18.
It’s a worthy gesture on the part of both parties, really, as a jersey retirement ceremony in front of an empty arena simply wouldn’t come with its deserved appreciation, especially for such an accomplishment.
But no matter the day, the 85-year-old O’Ree, who spent his entire 45-game NHL career with the Bruins and was inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018, can’t help but smile when thinking about his jersey joining a rafter full of Boston legends.
“It’s wonderful, really,” O’Ree said of the B’s retiring his No. 22. “I’m just thrilled and honored to be a part of the Bruins organization. I was a Montreal Canadiens fan in my teens because Toronto and Montreal were the only two teams in the NHL, but when I went to my first Bruins training camp in 1957, I became a Bruins fan. In ‘58, I went again. I had the highest respect and highest admiration for the entire Bruin organization, especially the guys that I played with during that time. ”