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League moves Willie O’Ree’s number retirement ceremony to 2022

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A longer wait for the trailblazer, unfortunately.

Willie O’Ree 50th Anniversary Day 2 Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images

After announcing last month that the team would be retiring Willie O’Ree’s number on February 18 before a game against the New Jersey Devils, the Bruins announced today that they’ve postponed the ceremony until next year.

Per the team and the league, O’Ree’s big night will now take place on January 18, 2022, 11 months later than planned.

The league released the following statement in a press release:

After consultation with Willie and the Bruins, we have respectfully asked that the banner-raising be postponed until January 18, 2022 – 64 years to the date that Willie became the first Black player in NHL history. We hope and expect the change will enable us all to commemorate this moment in a way that matches the magnitude of Willie’s impact – in front of a TD Garden crowd packed with passionate Bruins fans, who can express their admiration and appreciation for Willie and create the meaningful moment he has earned throughout his incredible career. Willie and the Bruins have graciously agreed to this change, and we all look forward to making this celebration even more robust together.

The “packed house” idea seems a little optimistic given the pace of the vaccine roll-out in Massachusetts, but I digress...

As you may remember, the Bruins-Devils game scheduled for Monday has already been rescheduled due to Jersey’s COVID exposure. The 18th game is still on, but who knows for how long?

While it’s 100000% true that O’Ree deserves to have his number retired in front of a packed house (another example of why the team should have done this years ago), my guess is logistics and safety concerns played a big role here.

It’d be hard for the Bruins to bring O’Ree and his family into town, say, this weekend, only to have the Devils game cancelled. Plus, international travel isn’t the greatest idea right now, especially for someone in a higher-risk category (due to age).

Ultimately, it’s an understandable decision. It’s just disappointing that 1) O’Ree is going to have to wait almost an entire year to get the honor he deserves and 2) the team didn’t do this a long time ago.

Here’s to hoping that when that #22 finally goes up to the rafters next January, O’Ree and his family can be joined by 17,565 fans in the stands, and that COVID-19 is beginning to fade from memory.