Hockey Pioneer Willie O’Ree Broke The NHL’S Color Barrier 60 Years Ago Today


January 19, 2018

Photo via: AP Photo

60 years ago today, Willie O’Ree became the first Black player in the National Hockey League (NHL) when he made his debut with the Boston Bruins and played against the Montreal Canadiens on January 18, 1958. O’Ree, recognized as the “Jackie Robinson of Hockey” for breaking the NHL’s color barrier, played 45 games in the NHL and a total of 21 years in pro hockey.

Both the city of Boston and the Bruins honored the hockey pioneer on Wednesday, a day before the 60th anniversary of his historic debut. During the day, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced the dedication of a new street hockey rink in O’Ree’s honor and declared January 18 as “Willie O’Ree Day” in the city. Then before the Bruins played the Canadiens that night, the team invited O’ree out to the ice to drop the ceremonial face-off. Players from both teams also wore special patches on their jerseys to honor the 60th anniversary of O’Ree’s NHL debut. 


Here’s to 60 years, Willie O’Ree! Thank you for everything you’ve done for the game.

“The whole week has just been a thrill,” said O’Ree, who is now 82 years old. “I was glad to come back to Boston. I was glad to get together and be able to see the SCORE kids and some of the other kids in the (youth hockey) programs. I was glad I was able to watch them play their game.”

Photo via: The Undefeated 


“Willie’s speed, his skill, and his sheer perseverance earned him a job in what was then the six-team National Hockey League, and obviously jobs as a player in those days were scarce,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. “We celebrate not only the NHL games he played but the countless thousands of boys and girls he has inspired since becoming our ‘Hockey is for Everyone’ ambassador in 1998.”

Mr. O’Ree, thank you for blazing a trail and paving the way for present and future  Black players in the National Hockey League. 

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