The National Hockey League’s Boston Bruins will retire the jersey of Willie O’Ree, who broke the NHL’s color barrier with Boston in 1958 as the first Black hockey player in the league.
The retiring of O’Ree’s No. 22 jersey is set for February 18, prior to the Bruins’ home game against the New Jersey Devils. His jersey will hang in the rafters of the team’s TD Garden arena.
“Willie’s contributions to the game of hockey transcend on-ice accomplishments and have opened countless doors for players who have come after him,” said Bruins President Cam Neely, in Tuesday’s announcement. “He is without question deserving of this honor.”
O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018. That same year, the NHL instituted the annual Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award in his honor. The award is designed to recognize an individual working to positively impact his or her community, culture or society through hockey.
“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,” said Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs.
“After breaking the color barrier as a Boston Bruin in 1958 and eventually retiring from professional hockey in 1979, 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.”
On Monday, the NHL announced that every player in the league will wear a decal on their helmets featuring a picture of O’Ree and the message “celebrating equality.” The decals will be worn from January 16 through the end of February, which is Black History Month.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day falls on January 18 this year, which was the date 63 years ago that O’Ree made his Bruins debut and made history by breaking the league’s color barrier.