Boston Bruins finally retiring jersey number of Willie O’Ree

Boston Bruins, Willie O'Ree (Photo by Presley Ann/Getty Images)
Boston Bruins, Willie O'Ree (Photo by Presley Ann/Getty Images) /

The Boston Bruins will finally be retiring the number of Willie O’Ree during the 2021 season.

Today, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, the Boston Bruins announced that they will be retiring the number of former B’s winger Willie O’Ree. O’Ree broke down a huge wall when he began playing in NHL for the Black and Gold during the 1957-58 season as he was the first Black man to play in the league.

The date of the ceremony will be Thursday, Feb. 18, before the game against the New Jersey Devils. This ceremony will be virtual because of the restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Bruins announced that there will be a traditional ceremony once  it’s allowed.

Overall, this honor for O’Ree is long overdue. Although O’Ree isn’t one of the greatest players to ever lace up the skates for either the NHL or the B’s, he’s still a huge part of the league’s history being the first Black player in league NHL history.

O’Ree’s career paved the way for so many more Black NHL players, like Ray Emery, the Subban brothers (P.K., Malcolm, and Jordan), and Wayne Simmonds. Without O’Ree none of these players may have been introduced to the game of hockey.

O’Ree played his 45 career NHL games over the course of the 1957-58 and 1960-61 seasons. Over this time, he registered four goals and 10 assists for 14 points with a -18 plus/minus (+/-) and 26 penalty minutes. Incredibly, half his goals were game-winners.

The Bruins ended up trading O’Ree and Stan Maxwell in June of 1961 to the Montreal Canadiens for Cliff Pennington and Terry Gray. O’Ree would be traded again just five months later to the LA Blades of the WHL for cash.

O’Ree would spend six seasons with the Blades before being traded to the San Diego Gulls for cash in February of 1967. He would spend seven seasons with the Gulls. During this time he would also play for the New Haven Nighthawks of the AHL. O’Ree’s career ended in 1979 with the San Diego Hawks of the PHL.

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The NHL career of O’Ree may have only consisted of 45 games, but the impact he had on the sport of hockey and the NHL is much greater.