Bruins retiring jersey of NHL barrier breaker Willie O'Ree
Published Tuesday, January 12, 2021 3:33PM AST Last Updated Tuesday, January 12, 2021 7:31PM AST
Willie O'Ree made his NHL debut in a game between the Bruins and the Canadiens in 1958.
BOSTON -- Willie O'Ree, who broke the NHL's colour barrier, is set to have his jersey retired by the Boston Bruins.
O'Ree will have his No. 22 jersey honoured prior to the Bruins' Feb. 18 game against the New Jersey Devils, the team announced Tuesday.
He became the league's first Black player when he suited up for Boston on Jan. 18, 1958, against the Montreal Canadiens. O'Ree, who was legally blind in one eye, played two seasons for the Bruins, retiring from professional hockey in 1979.
He also donned Nos. 18 and 25 during his time with the Bruins but wore No. 22 in the bulk of his games with the club.
O'Ree, 85, becomes the 12th player in team history to have a sweater hung in the TD Garden rafters.
"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 honour," Bruins president Cam Neely said in a statement.
With Massachusetts' COVID-19 restrictions currently prohibiting fans from being in attendance at Bruins games, it is likely O'Ree will be honoured in a mostly empty Garden. But the team said once protocols allow, it plans to recognize him again so fans can be a part of it.
Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said though it's not ideal, the team didn't want to delay honouring O'Ree and will "pay tribute in the best fashion we possibly can."
"Ideally, you want him shaking people's hands in situations like this and really paying tribute and rightfully so to Willie," Sweeney said. "It doesn't diminish the overall effect of what Willie going into the rafters and retiring his number and what he's meant to the game and the Boston Bruins."
O'Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame class of 2018 as part of the "Builder" category, which honours those who have made significant contributions to the sport.
He played 45 games in his NHL career for the Bruins, notching four goals and 10 assists.
Since 1998, O'Ree has worked for the NHL as a diversity ambassador.