Willie O’Ree, The First Black NHL Player, Will Have His Jersey Retired


January 14, 2021

He deserves this!

The Boston Bruins will retire their No.22 jersey in honor of Wilie O’Ree, the first Black NHL player, the Jacksonville Free Press reports.


Willie O’Ree made history as the first Black person to play in the National Hockey League on January 18th, 1958, when he suited up for the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens. O’Ree, who was legally blind in one eye, spoke to reporters at the time, saying, “It was the greatest thrill of my life, I believe. I will always remember this day.” He eventually retired in 1979, moving on to become an integral part of the league, spearheading diversity and inclusion as an ambassador for the NHL since 1998, focusing on the NHL’s “Hockey Is For Everyone” initiative. Now, O’Ree is being honored by the Bruins, becoming only the 12th person to have his jersey number retired. 

In 2018, O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a member of the “Builder” category, which focuses on honoring those with “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.” 

That same year, in honor of the 60th anniversary of O’Ree’s first game, the NHL and Bruins donated to Boston parks and recreation, renaming a renovated street hockey rink in his honor at Smith Field in Allston. 


“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. Willie’s contribution to the game of hockey transcends on-ice accomplishments and have opened countless doors for players who have come after him. He is without question deserving of this honor,” Cam Neely, president of the Boston Bruins, said.

Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs echoed those sentiments, saying, “Throughout the history of the National Hockey League, there have been very few individuals that have had such a profound impact on the league and its culture than Willie O’Ree. After breaking the color barrier as a Boston Bruin…Willie became the ultimate ambassador for improving diversity and inclusion within the game of hockey. The entire hockey world is forever indebted to Willie for all that he has done and continues to do for the sport. We are incredibly proud to retire Willie’s number and cement his legacy as one of Boston’s greatest athletes.”

The ceremony will take place at TD Garden before the game against the New Jersey Devils on February 18th without fans present due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Bruins plan to honor O’Ree again once restrictions are lifted in front of a full audience.


Congratulations, Mr. Willie!

Photo Courtesy of The Jacksonville Free Press

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