National Hockey League Honors Its First Black Player With A Hall Of Fame Induction

 Photo credit: K.C. Alfred

This November, 82-year-old Willie O’Ree will be honored as the trailblazing first Black player to play in the Canada-based National Hockey League (NHL) back in 1958. While only playing in 45 games with the NHL, his continued service as a diversity ambassador to the game and work with the NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone” program has ensured that diverse communities were exposed to the game of hockey and opened the door for future hockey players of color for generations to come.

After being selected to receive the honor by a committee of 18 persons then learning of his pending acknowledgement, O’Ree shared "I was laughing and I was crying. I'm just so happy that I'm alive to be able to share this. There's not enough words to say how pleased I am."

O’Ree was drafted by the Boston Bruins in 1958 making him the first Black player to play with the NHL in the league’s then 41-year old history. While his stint with the minor league Quebec Aces was significantly longer than his time spent with the Boston Bruins, his presence alone in the major league at that time represented something that was much bigger than his own personal plight. 

Photo via: AP 

Joining O’Ree in the 2018 NHL Hall of Fame inductee class is current league commissioner Gary Bettman, the former best statistical goalie in the game’s history, Martin Brodeur, and Canadian women’s hockey standout Jayna Hefford. Cited as one of the more successful NHL Commissioners in the leagues history, Bettman shared, "I was literally speechless. I'm delighted Willie is going to be going in, and I'm delighted to be going in with him." 

Photo credit: K.C. Alfred

Being inducted into the NHL's Hall of Fame is one of the highest honors that a player can receive. With this induction, O’Ree will be honored as a "builder of the sport." Earlier this year, the NHL also announced the “Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award” that will recognize those who are demonstrating a “commitment to improving lives and strengthening communities through hockey.” The first O’Ree Community Hero Award was given during the 2018 NHL Awards in Las Vegas last April.

Congratulations Mr. O’Ree! Thank you for broadening the appeal of hockey to generations of future players who may have never thought about the sport without your influence. 

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