Bruins to retire jersey number of black NHL pioneer O'Ree

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Willie O'Ree, who became the National Hockey League's first black player 63 years ago with the Boston Bruins, will have his number 22 jersey retired by the club next month.

The Bruins announced on Tuesday O'Ree will become the 12th player to have his number retired by the team in a February 18 ceremony ahead of Boston's home game against New Jersey.

"I'm thrilled," O'Ree said. "Overwhelmed."

O'Ree, an 85-year-old Canadian who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018, broke the NHL color barrier as a left wing for the Bruins in a game at Montreal on January 18, 1958.

"Willie's contributions to the game of hockey transcend on-ice accomplishments and have opened countless doors for players who have come after him," Bruins president Cam Neely said. "He is without question deserving of this honor."

NHL players, who open a 2021 campaign shortened by Covid-19 on Wednesday, will wear helmet decals starting Saturday noting the anniversary of O'Ree's accomplishment, which this year falls on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a US holiday in tribute to the late black civil rights leader.

The decal, featuring an image of O'Ree wearing and the words "Celebrating Equality", will also be worn throughout February, celebrated in the US as Black History Month.

"Throughout the history of the NHL, there have been very few individuals that have had such a profound impact on the league and its culture than Willie O'Ree," Bruins chief executive Charlie Jacobs said.

"Willie became the ultimate ambassador for improving diversity and inclusion within the game of hockey. The entire hockey world is forever indebted to Willie for all that he has done, and continues to do, for the sport."

While spectators are unlikely for the O'Ree tribute game due to Covid-19 safety measures, the Bruins said they plan another ceremony in tribute to O'Ree with fans when conditions allow.

O'Ree scored four goals and set up 10 others over 45 NHL games in the 1957-58 and 1960-61 seasons with the Bruins despite being blind in his right eye due to an injury sustained playing junior hockey.

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