On January 18, 1958, playing for the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens, Willie O'Ree broke the color barrier and played in the NHL-- an extraordinary event that paved the way for future players of diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds. To commemorate his work and recognize this milestone, the San Jose Sharks will host O'Ree at HP Pavilion at tonight’s game against the Bruins to honor the anniversary of O'Ree historic accomplishment.
The following day, Friday, Jan. 15, the Sharks organization, in conjunction with the Oakland Ice Center Operated by Sharks Ice, will host numerous activities throughout the Oakland community. O’Ree will start the morning with a visit to Oakland Technical High School in downtown Oakland to meet the school’s inaugural ice hockey team and share his experiences with students there. The Oakland Tech ice hockey team is sponsored by Sharks Ice and plays in the HP High School Hockey League.
After a visit to a local Oakland fire house, O’Ree will be joined by Sharks players at the Oakland Ice Center from 4 to 5:30 p.m. to greet children from the OIC’s Hockey Is For Everyone programs, including the rink’s fledgling sled hockey program, various on-ice physical education and after school classes, and the Special Skaters program serving children with a variety of special needs.
Among those who look forward to meeting O’Ree for the first time on the January 15 are children from the Bay Area Outreach & Recreation Program (familiarly known as BORP), which has been providing accessible sports and recreation opportunities for children and adults with physical disabilities in the greater San Francisco Bay Area for over thirty years. US Paralympic basketball player and BORP Youth Sports Coordinator, Trooper Johnson, is spearheading the effort to incorporate sled hockey into Oakland’s Hockey Is For Everyone program. “This program has opened doors and increased their ability to learn new skills and enjoy a sport that they had thought they could only watch,” said Johnson. “This experience has proven the fact that Hockey really is for EVERYONE!”
As Director of Youth Development for the NHL, O’Ree has helped the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone initiative expose more than 45,000 boys and girls of diverse backgrounds to unique hockey experiences. Over the past decade, O’Ree has traveled thousands of miles across North America helping to establish 30 local grassroots hockey programs. While advocating strongly that “Hockey is for Everyone,” O’Ree stresses the importance of essential life skills, education, and the core values of hockey, which are: commitment, perseverance, and teamwork.