William (Willie) O'Ree
Director of Youth Development
Willie O’Ree is the National Hockey League’s Director of Youth Development and ambassador for NHL Diversity, a post he has held since January 1998. On January 18, 1958, playing for the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens, he became the first black person to play in the NHL -- an extraordinary event that paved the way for future players of diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds.
O’Ree played 45 games with the Bruins from 1958-61. His long professional career spanned 21 seasons, mostly in the Western Hockey League (WHL) with the Los Angeles Blades and the San Diego Gulls. O’Ree played his entire professional career blind in one eye.
As Director of Youth Development, O’Ree has helped the NHL Diversity program expose more than 40,000 boys and girls of diverse backgrounds to unique hockey experiences. Over the past decade, O’Ree has traveled thousands of miles across North America helping to establish 39 local grassroots hockey programs, all geared towards serving economically disadvantaged youth. While advocating strongly that “Hockey is for Everyone,” O’Ree stresses the importance of essential life skills, education, and the core values of hockey, which are: commitment, perseverance, and teamwork.
O’Ree is the recipient of numerous awards and honors. He was inducted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 1984 and the Breitbard Hall of Fame in the San Diego Hall of Champions in 2008. He received the Lester Patrick Award for outstanding service to hockey in the United States in 2003 and in 2007 became the inaugural recipient of the Bill Walsh Champion of Change Award, which recognizes an individual whose tenaciousness of purpose paved a path of opportunity to everyone. In 2005 he received the Order of New Brunswick, the highest honor of the Province of New Brunswick, which recognizes individuals who have demonstrated excellence and achievement and who have made outstanding contributions to the social, cultural or economic well-being of the province and its residents. In January 2008 the Fredericton, New Brunswick City Council named their new hockey arena after O’Ree in honor of his accomplishments.
January 18, 2008 marked the 50th anniversary of O’Ree’s NHL debut with the Boston Bruins. This milestone was recognized by the National Hockey League throughout the season at both the local and national levels—including events celebrating the diversity of the game and the Hockey is for Everyone initiative.
O’Ree resides in San Diego, California.