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Hockey Is For Everyone

O'Ree feeling, thinking young thanks to Skills Weekend

First black player in NHL helping to teach kids about hockey on, off ice

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / Deputy Managing Editor

PHILADELPHIA -- The 2019 NHL Willie O'Ree Skills Weekend will feature boys and girls and their coaches from 20 Hockey Is For Everyone programs across North America

But O'Ree, the 83-year-old star of the event, might be the person having the most fun.

"If you work around young people it keeps you feeling young and thinking young," said O'Ree, the NHL diversity ambassador. "I think there's a lot of truth to that. ... The kids are awesome. I think that's why I've been able to be involved with the Hockey Is For Everyone program for over 20 years. Meeting different kids and being able to work with them and help them set goals for themselves, help them feel good about themselves."

The skills weekend involves the boys and girls doing work on and off the ice, led by instructors from the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation.

They'll also be guests at a game between Philadelphia Flyers alumni and Snider Hockey alums at Penn Ice Rink at the Class of 1923 Arena on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.

O'Ree, who became the first black player in the NHL when he made his debut with the Boston Bruins on Jan. 18, 1958, will be honored before the game, which also will see the kids at the skills weekend help unveil plans to renovate the arena, which when completed will allow Snider Hockey to increase its offerings to kids in the region.

Video: Willie O'Ree joins the Hockey Hall of Fame

The kids also will attend the 2019 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series between the Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN360, SN1, TVAS2), tour the American Legacy Black Hockey History mobile museum, and see the Stanley Cup.

"I hope the kids have fun; they should have fun," O'Ree said. "I always tell these kids, 'If you're not having fun why play the game? Pick another sport.' I've conducted numerous clinics since I came and was involved in Hockey Is For Everyone programs, and once you get these boys and girls on the ice, I've not had one boy or girl come up to me and say, 'Mr O'Ree I'm not coming back, I don't like this.' The interest is there, 90 percent of the job is getting them on the ice and letting them have fun."

But for O'Ree, it's fun with a purpose. And that's using hockey as a vehicle to teach the boys and girls about the importance of goal-setting and self-confidence.

"A lot of kids don't like themselves," he said. "If you like yourself and feel good about yourself, other kids are going to like you. But if you go around with a negative attitude, who wants to be in the presence of kids like that?"

Those are lessons O'Ree uses in his life.

"I had set two goals for myself when I was 14," he said. "First one was to play pro hockey and the second one was hopefully get into the National Hockey League. I obtained those two goals. Then I still set goals for myself. I'm 83 years old, but it's important to know what direction you're going in and work toward it."

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