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This Week In Bruins History: Willie O'Ree Breaks Color Barrier

Willie O'Ree
Willie O'Ree

On January 18, 1958 Willie Eldon O'Ree became the first black player to play an NHL game. O'Ree got his chance when the Bruins called him up due to an injury making his debut against the Canadiens. During O'Ree's minor league career he had been struck by a wild puck that left him almost completely blind in his right eye. O'Ree did an excellent job of hiding the fact that he was playing with one eye, but if the NHL knew he never would have eared the chance of being a pioneer for the sport.

O'Ree only played two season in the NHL, both with the Boston Bruins. He scored a total of four goals and added ten helpers during his forty- five NHL games. These numbers were far from spectacular, however for a number of years O'Ree was a scoring force in the WHL posting 318 goal in thirteen season. He won two scoring titles in his thirteen season in the WHL.

Being the first black player to play in the NHL of course O'Ree experienced racism. He said that the racism was worse in the American cities rather than the Canadian cities. Fans would make comments about why he wasn't in the South while throwing out cotton references in the process. O'Ree's comments on the racism he experienced, "things like that. It didn't bother me. I just wanted to be a hockey player, and if they couldn't accept that fact, that was their problem, not mine. Willie O'Ree may not have had the type of impact that Jackie Robinson made in the MLB. However in a sport where the percentage of black players is minuscule he still made an impression that is visible in the league today..

History of Wille O'ree, 1st Black NHL Player (via floridaeels)