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Stanley Cup Final

O'Ree expects Bruins to 'come out on top' against Blues in Cup Final

NHL's first black player excited for Game 1, glad to feel 'like part of the family'

by William Douglas @WDouglasNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

BOSTON -- Willie O'Ree loves his Boston Bruins, but he thinks they'll have a tougher time defeating the St. Louis Blues in a rematch of the 1970 Stanley Cup Final than they did sweeping them 49 years ago.

"I'm predicting the Bruins. I have the feeling that it may go six, it may go seven games, but I think in the end the Bruins are going to come out on top," O'Ree said. "Or at least I hope they are."

 

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O'Ree, who became the NHL's first black player when he stepped onto the ice with the Bruins on Jan. 18, 1958, returned to Boston on Monday for Game 1 of the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Final against the Blues (8 p.m., NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS). He will attend a private screening of the autobiographical documentary "Willie" on Tuesday.

The Blues team that Boston swept in 1970 featured goalie Glenn Hall, forward Red Berenson and defenseman Al Arbour. It was coached by Scotty Bowman.

O'Ree thinks the 2019 Bruins will have their hands full with an aggressive St. Louis team that's led by forward Vladimir Tarasenko and goalie Jordan Binnington, with coach Craig Berube behind the bench.

"This St. Louis team, they're something to be delighted about," he said. "I think they're going to come out strong."

The 83-year-old was unable to attend the game at TD Garden Monday night but watched it from his downtown Boston hotel room.

"I've always had a special part in my heart for Boston and the Bruins organization. "They brought me up, [coach] Milt Schmidt and [general manager] Lynn Patrick back then, said 'Willie, you're just another player we brought up to help the team win,'" he said. "That was encouraging. I always felt like part of the family."

And he is excited about showing "Willie" in Boston. The 89-minute film, which made its debut at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival in April, chronicles O'Ree's life from his boyhood in Fredericton, New Brunswick, through his playing days and post-playing career as the NHL's Diversity Ambassador to his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in November 2018 and beyond.

"I only saw bits and pieces of it until a few weeks ago," O'Ree said. "I was impressed."

O'Ree made his NHL debut against the Montreal Canadiens at the Forum 61 years ago and played 45 NHL games, all with the Bruins, during the 1957-58 and 1960-61 seasons, despite being blind in one eye, the result of a game injury sustained while playing junior hockey.

Some U.S. lawmakers hope to honor O'Ree by passing a bill awarding him the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the highest civilian honors bestowed by Congress.

If the measure passes the House of Representatives and the Senate, O'Ree will join the likes of George Washington, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson and civil rights icons Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Coretta Scott King as Congressional Gold Medal recipients.

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