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Willie O'Ree Community Rink Dedicated in Allston

Bruins help unveil street hockey rink in soon-to-be Hall of Famer's honor

by Eric Russo @NHLBruins / BostonBruins.com

BOSTON - Patrice Bergeron didn't become one of the world's elite hockey players by accident. It took years of hard work and dedication throughout his childhood in Ancienne-Lorette, Quebec.

But not all of that development happened on the ice. Some of those skills were refined on the streets - or in the snow.

"That's basically my childhood in a nutshell, really," said Bergeron. "Coming back from school, or even in the summertime, we played street hockey. It didn't really matter…it was basically my street, just go out in front and just play hockey.

"In the winter it was nice because we'd have some boards with all the snow that was getting plowed. That was helpful."

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic in Slovakia, Zdeno Chara cultivated his craft in a similar fashion.

"That's pretty much all we did growing up, playing outdoors," said Chara. "Pretty much we were playing on the streets and made nets out of the garbage cans. It was just a blast."

Video: Street hockey rink unveiled in Willie O'Ree's honor

While snow banks and trash barrels can make for some fun props, the children of Allston won't have to worry anymore about building a makeshift street hockey rink or clearing the road for passing cars.

That's because on Thursday the Bruins helped to unveil the brand new Willie O'Ree Community Street Hockey Rink at Smith Playground. O'Ree was joined by Chara, Bergeron, Bruins president Cam Neely, Boston Bruins Foundation Executive Director Bob Sweeney, and NHL Director of Social Impact, Growth, and Fan Development and former Bruin Andrew Ference for the dedication.

"I think it's great," said O'Ree, the NHL's first black player, who will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder on Nov. 12. "I think anytime you can erect a facility where you can bring boys and girls and get them together, different races and creeds, and get them out to enjoy the game…what more can you ask?"

"This is amazing right here, right now," added Bergeron. "I wish we had something like this growing up. It definitely brings a lot of memories, to grab the stick and the ball and just get going."

The Bruins and Boston Bruins Foundation also announced on Thursday their plan to pledge $250,000 to the City of Boston to refurbish street hockey rinks across the city. In addition, the Bruins will be partnering with the city to establish the Willie O'Ree Street Hockey League to ensure the newly improved rinks have programming.

"I think this is very special for the community and for so many young kids to be able to come here and use this beautiful outdoor rink to work on their skills," added Chara. "We want to have more kids outdoors playing, instead of being home and probably watching too much TV or playing too many games. Great idea for a great cause."

Following the unveiling ceremony, members of the Special Olympics Massachusetts street hockey team, SCORE Boston, and Allston Brighton Youth Hockey participated in the rink's inaugural game.

"We didn't have this growing up - it was like, 'car's coming,' you move the net," said Neely. "But to get the kids out being active if they can't skate, they don't have the opportunity to skate…we all know how expensive the ice hockey sport is, but to get out here and play the game of hockey and understand what it means to be a teammate, understand what it's like if you win or lose, even if it's on a surface like this as opposed to ice - I think it's great for our sport to grow and get kids more active in our sport."

That has been O'Ree's mission for the better part of 20 years. As the National Hockey League's Diversity Ambassador for the Hockey is for Everyone Initiative, O'Ree has traveled across North America helping "introduce more than 120,000 boys and girls of diverse backgrounds to unique hockey experiences," according to the NHL.

"I've been traveling around to numerous schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, [YMCAs], YWCAs, juvenile detention facilities," said O'Ree, "working with boys and girls that probably can't get the opportunity to get on the ice and play. We make it affordable for them and if they don't like it they can walk away and it's not gonna cost them anything."

For all of that work, as well as his groundbreaking status as the NHL's first black player - a feat he accomplished as a member of the Bruins on Jan. 28, 1958 - O'Ree will, at long last, take his rightful place in the Hockey Hall of Fame in just over two weeks.

"It's amazing. It's a long time coming, it's well deserved. I'm so happy for him," said Bergeron. "He's such a good ambassador…every time you have the chance to talk to him, the way that he is such a good role model for kids, but also that program Hockey is for Everyone, he's doing a great job with it…couldn't be happier for him. It's always good to see him. We don't get to see him that often, but when we do, what a great guy."

O'Ree said he is in the midst of working on his speech, which he has whittled down to just over five minutes.

"Speech is going good…it's starting to register with me that I'm going in," said O'Ree. "A lot of people told me years ago that you should be in the Hall, but back then it went in one ear and out the other.

"I only played 45 games in the NHL with the Bruins when I broke the color barrier on Jan. 18, 1958 and then went back up in 1960-61…but the work that I'm doing now is the reason that I'm getting into the Hall as a builder."

Video: O'Ree speaks following rink dedication ceremony

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