BOSTON (AP) – After more than 60 years of breaking the color barrier of the NHL, Willie O’Rae will soon add another milestone to his career.
The Boston Bruins announced on Tuesday that they would have their No. 22 jersey before the team’s February 18 game against the New Jersey Devils at O’Ree. This would make OD the 12th player in the history of the team that hangs a sweater in TD Garden.
O’Reary, 85, said he was in his backyard on Monday when he was called by Bruins president Cam Neely to tell him about the honor.
“I was at a loss of words for a few seconds,” O’Ree said. “I am overwhelmed and thrilled, because my brew is hanging in the jersey in the rafters.”
He became the league’s first black player when he advanced to Boston on 18 January 1958 against the Montreal Canadiens. O’Ree, who was legally blind in one eye, played two seasons for the Bruins, retiring from professional hockey in 1979.
He also donated between the ages of 18 and 25 during his time with the Bruins, but wore the number 22 in the bulk of his game with the club.
“I had a passion for playing the game,” O’Rae said. “Just this burning desire. Even when I lost my second-year junior’s eye, he said, “Okay, you should leave.” I said, well, I can still see. I just kept playing. “
Neely said that there is no question. O’Reigh deserves to keep his jersey next to the team’s legendary players like Bobby Orr and Ray Bourke.
“Willie surpassed Ice’s achievements on his contribution to the game of hockey and opened countless doors for players who followed him,” Neely said in a statement.
With the Kovid-19 ban of Massachusetts currently prohibiting fans from appearing at Bruins games, it is likely that O’Ree will be honored mostly at Empty Gardens. But the team said that once the protocol allows, there are plans to re-identify it so that fans can become part of it.
Bruce general manager Don Sweeney said that although it is not ideal, the team did not want to delay honoring his contributions and “we will pay tribute in the best way possible.”
“Ideally, you want him to shake people’s hands in such situations and really pay tribute to Willie and rightfully so,” Sweeney said. “It doesn’t reduce the overall impact … Willie is going into the fleet and retiring his number and what he means to the game and the Boston Bruins.”
O’Reary was inducted into the 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame as part of the “Builder” category, which honors those who have made significant contributions to the sport.
He played 45 games for the Bruins in his NHL career, giving up four goals and 10 assists.
Since 1998, O’Ree has served as a diversity ambassador for the NHL.
While it has been 40 years since he hung up his cleats, O’Ree said that he is not in time for this latest recognition.
“It could have happened sooner,” he said. “Sometimes things get a little long.”
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