In 1958, Boston lost a player on injury. They called up one Willie O’Ree to replace him for two games. He first scratched the ice in Boston on January 18th.
In doing so, O’Ree smashed open a color barrier that had been chipped at by Larry Kwong of NYR. The first person of color to play an NHL game all the way through. Three years later, he was an active roster member, netting 14 points.
He recounted the tale of his first game in an absolutely spectacular article in The Player’s Tribune, describing the first time he ever got to meet Jackie Robinson, and of course...the night of his game. While he contributed no goals, he helped the team blank Montreal 3-0.
“I stepped onto the ice and I had butterflies in my stomach. The Canadiens were the best team in the league at that time. They were winning Cup after Cup. Maurice “Rocket” Richard, Jacques Plante, Bernie Geoffrion, Doug Harvey … these were superstars of the highest order. The Rocket, in particular, was one of my idols growing up. To share the ice with these guys, and play against them in an NHL game, was surreal.
Even more surreal: We won, 3-0. Now, I wasn’t just an NHL player. I was a winner, too.”
His impact can be seen throughout the National Hockey League. You need only look around the league today and even just recently. Seth Jones. JT Brown. Joel Ward. Jarome Iginla. Wayne Simmonds. Anson Carter. Georges Laraque. The entire Subban clan. None of these names are possible without one kid from Fredericton being called up to play with a Spoked-B on his chest, and the career that spanned every level of hockey until he was 43. Even with having an absolutely blind right eye (that he got from playing hockey).
It’s today where we celebrate this milestone in making the game of hockey something that everyone can truly enjoy, and commemorate a Bruins legend for everything he did for the sport and everything he continues to do for it as an ambassador for the sport.
Thank you once again, Mr. O’Ree. The sport is much richer due to the career you had and the lives you touched while doing so.