BOSTON - Boston Bruins President Cam Neely announced today, January 12, that the team will honor Willie O'Ree by retiring his number 22 jersey prior to the team's game against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday, February 18.
"On behalf of the Boston Bruins organization I would like to congratulate Willie O'Ree as well as his wife, Deljeet, and his daughter, Chandra, on having his number retired in the TD Garden rafters," said Boston Bruins President Cam Neely. "Willie's contributions to the game of hockey transcend on-ice accomplishments and have opened countless doors for players who have come after him. He is without question deserving of this honor."
"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 Boston 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."
O'Ree is the 12th player to have his sweater honored by the Boston Bruins in franchise history, joining Lionel Hitchman (#3, 1934), Aubrey V. Clapper (#5, 1947), Edward W. Shore (#2, 1949), Milton C. Schmidt (#15, 1957), Robert G. Orr (#4, 1979), John P. Bucyk (#9, 1980), Philip A. Esposito (#7, 1987), Raymond J. Bourque (#77, 2001), Terence J. O'Reilly (#24, 2002), Cameron M. Neely (#8, 2004) and Richard D. Middleton (#16, 2018).
O'Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2018 as part of the "Builder" category, which is defined by "coaching, managerial or executive ability, or ability in another significant off-ice role, sportsmanship, character and contributions to his or her organization or organizations and to the game of hockey in general."
O'Ree became the first black player to compete in an NHL game on January 18, 1958, when he dressed for the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens, despite being legally blind in one eye. Following the game, he said, "It was the greatest thrill of my life, I believe. I will always remember this day."
O'Ree played two games with the Bruins before being sent to the minors. He joined the team again during the 1960-61 season, scoring four goals and 14 points in 43 games. O'Ree then was traded to the Canadiens, but he never dressed for the Club. He spent 13 seasons in the Western Hockey League before officially retiring in 1979.
O'Ree wore number 18 for two games and number 25 for nine games in his first two stints with the team but wore number 22 in the bulk of his games with the club (34 games).
In 2018 in commemoration of O'Ree's 60th anniversary, the NHL and Bruins donated to Boston Parks and Recreation a refurbished street hockey rink, dedicated 'Willie O'Ree Rink.'
Since 1998, O'Ree has worked for the NHL as a Diversity Ambassador, focusing on the League's Hockey Is For Everyone initiatives.
Given COVID-19 restrictions, it is possible that this ceremony will take place without fans at TD Garden. Despite this regrettable circumstance, the organization believes that it is important to move forward with a virtual pre-game ceremony and bestow this honor on Willie. Once protocols allow, the Bruins will again honor Willie in front of a full TD Garden.