Willie O'Ree's No. 22 Jersey to Be Retired by Bruins; Was NHL's 1st Black Player

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistJanuary 12, 2021

Willie O'Ree, the first black player to compete in the NHL, arrives for a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 25, 2019, with Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan. Scott and Stabenow announced their bipartisan legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to O'Ree. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Susan Walsh/Associated Press

The Boston Bruins announced Tuesday that they will retire Willie O'Ree's No. 22 on Feb. 18, making him the 12th player in team history to have his jersey number retired.

O'Ree, 85, is best known for making NHL history during the 1957-58 season when he became the first Black player to play in an NHL game.

All told, O'Ree appeared in 45 career NHL games with the Bruins over the course of two seasons, registering four goals and 10 assists.

While the Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, native's NHL career was brief, he made a massive impact during a short time and paved the way for future Black NHL stars such as Jarome Iginla, Dustin Byfuglien, Evander Kane and P.K. Subban.

After his time with the Bruins was over, O'Ree enjoyed a great deal of success in the Western Hockey League, which was a professional league that ran from 1952 until 1974.

In 13 WHL seasons with the Los Angeles Blades and San Diego Gulls, O'Ree appeared in 785 games and registered 328 goals and 311 assists for 639 points.

O'Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018 as part of the builder category, which contains people who helped the sport's development. O'Ree is a member of Canada's Sports Hall of Fame as well.

The NHL has also established an award in O'Ree's honor called the Willie O'Ree Community Hero Award, which has been given out since 2018 to "recognize the individual who has worked to make a positive impact on his or her community, culture or society to make people better through hockey."

The retiring of O'Ree's No. 22 this season will go down as one of the biggest honors of his career and put him on par with many of the greatest players to ever wear the black-and-yellow "B."

While the COVID-19 pandemic means it is possible no fans will be in attendance when the Bruins retire O'Ree's number before their Feb. 18 game against the New Jersey Devils, it will be a celebrated event nonetheless.