Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban remembers the first time he met Willie O'Ree.
Subban remembers his father Karl telling him as a child about O'Ree, who broke the NHL's color barrier when he made his debut with the Boston Bruins on Jan. 18, 1958, against the Montreal Canadiens, the team that would eventually draft and develop Subban and with which he would play his first six seasons in the NHL.
"It was pretty amazing just knowing what he's done for the game of hockey," Subban said. "He's such a significant individual. It was pretty special for me to meet him.
"He's a great hockey player but he's an even greater person in terms of the perseverance and the determination that he had to be successful."
O'Ree was an example back then for kids of various backgrounds that a future in hockey was possible. Subban is in a similar position today to help further diversify the NHL by inspiring another generation of kids to do as he has.
"I think I just want to focus on being the best player that I can be and being the best role model that I can be by just doing all the right things, not just for black kids or kids from different backgrounds, but for all kids who play the game," Subban said. "You want them to look at you in a positive light."
There is still a lot of work to be done in terms of opening hockey to new communities, and the NHL has a number of initiatives in place to make that happen.
O'Ree has been the NHL's Director of Youth Development and an ambassador for NHL Diversity since 1998, helping 36 youth hockey organizations and exposing more than 100,000 boys and girls of various backgrounds to the game every year as part of the NHL's Hockey is for Everyone initiative.
"I think they've done a great job to grow the game," Subban said, "finding new, creative ways to get people involved in new communities and new fan bases."