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Willie O'Ree
Willie o ree.jpg
Born October 15, 1935 (1935-10-15) (age 83)
Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada
Height 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m)
Weight 175 lb (79 kg; 12 st 7 lb)
Position Winger
Shoots Left
Played for Boston Bruins
Playing career 1957–1979

Willie O'Ree (born Willie Eldon O'Ree on October 15, 1935) is a Canadian former professional ice hockey player, known best for being the first black player in the National Hockey League (NHL) and played as a winger for the Boston Bruins.

Playing CareerEdit

Midway through his second minor-league season with the Quebec Aces, Willie was called up to the Boston Bruins of the NHL to replace an injured player.

He was 95% blind in his right eye due to being hit there by an errant puck two years earlier which normally would have precluded him from playing in the NHL, but he managed to keep it secret.

On January 18, 1958, Willie made his NHL debut with the Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens, becoming the first black player in league history, appearing in two games that year and came back in 1961 to play 43 games, playing with Boston centreman Don McKenney and right wing Jerry Toppazzini. He scored 4 goals and 10 assists in his NHL career, all in 1961.

Willie noted that the "racist remarks were much worse in the U.S. cities than in Toronto and Montreal," (the two Canadian cities hosting NHL teams at the time) and that "Fans would yell, 'Go back to the South' and 'How come you're not picking cotton?' 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."

In the minor leagues, Willie won two scoring titles in the Western Hockey League (WHL) between 1961 and 1974, scoring thirty or more goals four times, with a high of 38 in 1964–65 and 1968–69.

Most of his playing time was with the WHL's Los Angeles Blades and San Diego Gulls. The latter team retired his number, now hanging from the rafters at the San Diego Sports Arena.

Willie continued to play in the minors until the age of 43.

Career StatisticsEdit

    Regular season   Playoffs
Season Team League GP G A Pts PIM GP G A Pts PIM
1950–51 Fredericton Falcons NBAHA  ?  ?  ?  ?  ? 2 0 0 0 4
1951–52 Fredericton Merchants YCHL 6 10 4 14 2 8 10 5 15 18
1951–52 Fredericton Jr. Capitals NBJHL 3 2 0 2 0
1952–53 Fredericton Jr. Capitals NBJHL 12 15 3 18 6 4 5 0 5 2
1952–53 Fredericton Capitals NBSHL 2 2 0 2 0
1953–54 Fredericton Capitals NBSHL 23 7 11 18 15 25 15 10 25 10
1954–55 Quebec Frontenacs QJHL 43 27 17 44 41 17 7 6 13 10
1955–56 Kitchener Canucks OHA-Jr. 41 30 28 58 38 8 4 3 7 6
1956–57 Quebec Aces QHL 68 22 12 34 80 15 3 3 6 10
1957–58 Boston Bruins NHL 2 0 0 0 0
1957–58 Springfield Indians AHL 6 0 0 0 0
1957–58 Quebec Aces QHL 57 13 19 32 43 9 4 2 6 8
1958–59 Quebec Aces QHL 56 9 21 30 74
1959–60 Kingston Frontenacs EPHL 50 21 25 46 41
1960–61 Boston Bruins NHL 43 4 10 14 26
1960–61 Hull-Ottawa Canadiens EPHL 16 10 9 19 21
1961–62 Hull-Ottawa Canadiens EPHL 12 1 2 3 18
1961–62 Los Angeles Blades WHL 54 28 26 54 57
1962–63 Los Angeles Blades WHL 64 25 26 51 41 3 2 3 5 2
1963–64 Los Angeles Blades WHL 60 17 18 35 45 12 4 8 12 10
1964–65 Los Angeles Blades WHL 70 38 21 59 75
1965–66 Los Angeles Blades WHL 62 33 33 66 30
1966–67 Los Angeles Blades WHL 68 34 26 60 58
1967–68 San Diego Gulls WHL 66 21 33 54 54 7 2 2 4 6
1968–69 San Diego Gulls WHL 70 38 41 79 63 7 3 3 6 12
1969–70 San Diego Gulls WHL 66 24 22 46 50 6 6 3 9 4
1970–71 San Diego Gulls WHL 66 18 15 33 47 6 4 1 5 14
1971–72 San Diego Gulls WHL 48 16 17 33 42 4 0 1 1 2
1972–73 New Haven Nighthawks AHL 50 21 24 45 41
1972–73 San Diego Gulls WHL 18 6 5 11 18 6 1 4 5 2
1973–74 San Diego Gulls WHL 73 30 28 58 89 4 3 3 6 0
1974–75 San Diego Charms SoCal-Sr.  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?
1975–76 San Diego Charms SoCal-Sr.  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?
1978–79 San Diego Hawks PHL 53 21 25 46 37
NHL totals (2 seasons) 45 4 10 14 26
WHL totals (13 seasons) 785 328 311 639 669 55 25 28 53 52
QHL totals (3 seasons) 181 44 52 96 197 19 7 5 12 18
EPHL totals (3 seasons) 78 32 36 68 80

Post-Playing CareerEdit

In 1998, Willie was working at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, California when the National Hockey League approached him to be the director of youth development for its diversity task force.

As of the mid-2000s, he lives in Berkeley, California.

Honors & InductionsEdit

Willie was inducted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 1984.

On the afternoon of January 19, 2008, the Bruins and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly honoured O'Ree at TD Garden in Boston to mark the 50th anniversary of his NHL debut.

In addition, The Sports Museum of New England (located in the TD Garden) established a special exhibit on his career, comprising many items on loan from his personal collection.

Those in attendance included a busload of friends from his hometown of Fredericton. Two days earlier, the City of Fredericton honoured him by naming a new sports complex on the North side after him.

On January 27, 2008, the NHL also honoured Willie during the 56th National Hockey League All-Star Game in Atlanta, Georgia. On February 5, 2008, ESPN did a special on him in honour of Black History Month.

On October 29, 2008, San Diego State University presented him with an Award for Outstanding Commitment to Diversity and Cross Cultural Understanding.

In 2008, Willie was also inducted by the San Diego Hall of Champions into the Breitbard Hall of Fame honouring San Diego's finest athletes both on and off the playing surface.

On April 7, 2010, Willie received the Order of Canada, the highest civilian award for a Canadian citizen. He was honoured as a pioneer of hockey and dedicated youth mentor in Canada along with the U.S.

On June 28, 2011, The Sports Museum at TD Garden in Boston honoured Willie with the Hockey Legacy Award at the 10th Annual "The Tradition."

AccoladesEdit

  • WHL Second All-Star Team (1969)
  • Lester Patrick Award (2000)
  • Order of New Brunswick (2005)
  • Willie O'Ree Place (Fredericton arena, dedicated 2008)
  • Order of Canada (2008)
  • Breitbard Hall of Fame (2008)