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NHL's First Black Player Tours Bay Area

by San Jose Sharks Staff / San Jose Sharks
On March 7 and 8, Willie O’Ree will make his annual visit to the San Francisco Bay Area. O’Ree is the National Hockey League’s Director of Youth Development and hockey ambassador for the Hockey is for Everyone initiative, a post he has held since January 1998.

On January 18, 1958, playing for the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens, he broke the NHL’s color barrier -- an extraordinary event that paved the way for future players of diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds. The ex-NHL player spends time in the Bay Area each year to celebrate and encourage the growing diversity in ice hockey in the region.

O’Ree will commence his visit at Oakland Ice Center Operated by Sharks Ice on Monday, March 7, from 4 to 5 p.m. There, he will meet with children who participate in a variety of programs offered through the rink as part of the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone initiative. A recent Order of Canada honoree for his work with youth hockey organizations, O’Ree will lead a goal-setting discussion with the young attendees. At the same time, San Jose Sharks players Justin Braun and John McCarthy will conduct a hockey clinic for members of the Oakland Bears and Oakland Technical High School youth hockey teams.

“The value of Willie’s interaction with our young people cannot be overstated,” said Melissa Fitzgerald, General Manager of the Oakland Ice Center Operated by Sharks Ice. “Our rink resides in one of the most socio-economically diverse communities in the world. The children here are inspired and empowered by his continuing passion for our sport and for the inclusion of all children who want to participate in it.”

The Oakland arena, located at 519 18th Street in downtown Oakland, is a municipally owned facility that has been operated by Sharks Ice since October 2007. Sharks Ice offers free and low cost programs for thousands of Oakland children each year, including physical education classes, after school programs, field trips, and a variety of other activities.

On the morning of Tuesday, March 8, O’Ree will visit Coliseum College Prep Academy, an Oakland Unified School District school in East Oakland serving grades 7 through 12. He will speak to a group of students there about his experiences, as well as the importance getting a good education and following your dreams.

After school, O’Ree will head to a local Oakland firehouse for a hearty homemade lunch, and then down to HP Pavilion to watch the Sharks take on the Predators that evening. He will be joined at the game by Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s Special Assistant, Richard Cowan, and a group of 10 to 12 year old hockey players from the Oakland Bears program.

Following his visit to the Bay Area, Willie will travel to Washington D.C. to attend a ceremony for the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks on Friday, Mar. 11. After the ceremony, First Lady Michelle Obama, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, and USA Hockey Executive Director Dave Ogrean will preside over a street hockey workout and clinic on a rink set up on the South Lawn of the White House. The clinic for local youngsters, which will be conducted by members of the Blackhawks and Washington Capitals, is part of a new collaboration between Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative, the NHL and USA Hockey to encourage American children to lead active and healthy lives.

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