Willie O'Ree: Wikis

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Willie Eldon O 'Ree, OC, ONB (born October 15, 1935, in Fredericton, New Brunswick) is a retired professional ice hockey player, known best for being the first black player in the National Hockey League. O'Ree played as a winger for the Boston Bruins. He is frequently but erroneously referred to as the first African American player; while he is black, he is in fact a Canadian born and remains a Canadian national. Additionally, O'Ree is referred to as the "Jackie Robinson of ice hockey" due to breaking the colour barrier in the sport. Willie also has a visual impairment.

Contents

Playing career

Midway through his second minor-league season with the Quebec Aces, O'Ree was called up to the Boston Bruins of the NHL to replace an injured player. O'Ree was 95% blind in his right eye due to being hit there by an errant puck two years earlier,[1] which normally would have precluded him from playing in the NHL. However, O'Ree managed to keep it secret, and made his NHL debut with the Bruins on January 18, 1958, against the Montreal Canadiens, becoming the first black player in league history, appearing in two games that year, and came back in 1961 to play 43 games. He scored four goals and 10 assists in his NHL career, all in 1961.

Willie O'Ree noted that "racist remarks were much worse in the U.S. cities than in Toronto and Montreal," the two Canadian cities hosting NHL teams at the time, and that "Fans would yell, 'Go back to the South' and 'How come you're not picking cotton?' Things like that. It didn't bother me. I just wanted to be a hockey player, and if they couldn't accept that fact, that was their problem, not mine."[2]

In the minor leagues, O'Ree won two scoring titles in the Western Hockey League (WHL) between 1961 and 1974, scoring thirty or more goals four times, with a high of 38 in 1964–65 and 1968–69. Most of O'Ree's playing time was with the WHL's Los Angeles Blades and San Diego Gulls. The latter team retired his number, now hanging from the rafters at the San Diego Sports Arena. O'Ree continued to play in the minors until age 43.

Impact on hockey

After O'Ree, there was no other black player in the NHL until fellow Canadian Mike Marson was drafted by the Washington Capitals in 1974. There are 17 black players in the NHL as of the mid-2000s, the most prominent including Canadian Jarome Iginla (who is currently on the Calgary Flames) and American Mike Grier (who is currently on the Buffalo Sabres). Art Dorrington was the first black player to sign an NHL contract, in 1950 with the New York Rangers organization, but Dorrington never played beyond the minor league level. NHL players are now required to enroll in a diversity training seminar before each season, and racially based verbal abuse is punished through suspensions and fines.

O'Ree was inducted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 1984. In 1998, O’Ree was working at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, California when the National Hockey League approached him to be the director of youth development for its diversity task force. [3] The NHL/USA Hockey Diversity Task Force is a non-profit program for minority youth that encourages them to learn and play hockey. As of the mid-2000s, O'Ree lives in Berkeley, California.

On the afternoon of January 19, 2008, the Bruins and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly honoured O'Ree at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston to mark the 50th anniversary of his NHL debut. In addition, The Sports Museum of New England located in TD Banknorth Garden, established a special exhibit on O'Ree's career, comprising many items on loan from his personal collection.[4]

Those in attendance included a busload of friends from O'Ree's hometown of Fredericton. Two days earlier, the City of Fredericton honoured him by naming a new sports complex after him.[5]

On January 27, 2008, the NHL also honored Mr. O'Ree during the 56th National Hockey League All-Star Game in Atlanta, Georgia.

On February 5, 2008, ESPN did a special on him in honour of Black History Month. [6]

On October 29, 2008, San Diego State University presented Mr. O'Ree with an Award for Outstanding Commitment to Diversity and Cross Cultural Understanding. [7]

On December 30, 2008 O'Ree received the Order of Canada, the highest civilian award for a Canadian citizen, for his achievements in sports, and was named an Officer of the Order by his nation.[1]

In 2008, O'Ree was also inducted by the San Diego Hall of Champions into the Breitbard Hall of Fame honoring San Diego's finest athletes both on and off the playing surface.[2]

Awards and honours

Career statistics

    Regular season   Playoffs
Season Team League GP G A Pts PIM GP G A Pts PIM
1951–52 Fredericton City (Sr.) 6 10 4 14 2 8 10 5 15 18
1951–52 Fredericton NBJHL 3 2 0 2 0 β€” β€” β€” β€” β€”
1952–53 Fredericton NBJHL 12 15 3 18 6 4 5 0 5 2
1952–53 Fredericton NBSHL 2 2 0 2 0 β€” β€” β€” β€” β€”
1953–54 Fredericton NBSHL 23 7 11 18 15 25 15 10 25 10
1954–55 Quebec QJHL 43 27 17 44 41 17 7 6 13 10
1955–56 Kitchener Canucks OHA 41 30 28 58 38 8 4 3 7 6
1956–57 Quebec Aces QHL 68 22 12 34 80 15 3 3 6 10
1957–58 Boston Bruins NHL 2 0 0 0 0 β€” β€” β€” β€” β€”
1957–58 Springfield Indians AHL 6 0 0 0 0 β€” β€” β€” β€” β€”
1957–58 Quebec Aces QHL 57 13 19 32 43 9 4 2 6 8
1958–59 Quebec Aces QHL 56 9 21 30 74 β€” β€” β€” β€” β€”
1959–60 Kingston Frontenacs EPHL 50 21 25 46 41 β€” β€” β€” β€” β€”
1960–61 Boston Bruins NHL 43 4 10 14 26 β€” β€” β€” β€” β€”
1960–61 Hull-Ottawa Canadiens EPHL 16 10 9 19 21 β€” β€” β€” β€” β€”
1961–62 Hull-Ottawa Canadiens EPHL 12 1 2 3 18 β€” β€” β€” β€” β€”
1961–62 Los Angeles Blades WHL 54 28 26 54 57 β€” β€” β€” β€” β€”
1962–63 Los Angeles Blades WHL 64 25 26 51 41 3 2 3 5 2
1963–64 Los Angeles Blades WHL 60 17 18 35 45 12 4 8 12 10
1964–65 Los Angeles Blades WHL 70 38 21 59 75 β€” β€” β€” β€” β€”
1965–66 Los Angeles Blades WHL 62 33 33 66 30 β€” β€” β€” β€” β€”
1966–67 Los Angeles Blades WHL 68 34 26 60 58 β€” β€” β€” β€” β€”
1967–68 San Diego Gulls WHL 66 21 33 54 54 7 2 2 4 6
1968–69 San Diego Gulls WHL 70 38 41 79 63 7 3 3 6 12
1969–70 San Diego Gulls WHL 66 24 22 46 50 6 6 3 9 4
1970–71 San Diego Gulls WHL 66 18 15 33 47 6 4 1 5 14
1971–72 San Diego Gulls WHL 48 16 17 33 42 4 0 1 1 2
1972–73 New Haven Nighthawks AHL 50 21 24 45 41 β€” β€” β€” β€” β€”
1972–73 San Diego Gulls WHL 18 6 5 11 18 6 1 4 5 2
1973–74 San Diego Gulls WHL 73 30 28 58 89 4 3 3 6 0
1974–75 San Diego Cali. Sr.  ??  ??  ??  ??  ??  ??  ??  ??  ??  ??
1975–76 San Diego Cali. Sr.  ??  ??  ??  ??  ??  ??  ??  ??  ??  ??
1977-78 San Diego Sharks
1978–79 San Diego Hawks PHL 60 30 24 54 37 β€” β€” β€” β€” β€”
NHL totals 45 4 10 14 26 0 0 0 0 0

Notes

External links

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