Bruins retire No. 22 jersey of Willie O'Ree, NHL's first Black player, ahead of game against Hurricanes

When Willie O’Ree made his NHL launching with the Boston Bruins in 1957-58, he discovered no significance in his No. 22 jersey. The Hall of Famer now understands the number’s significance in more methods than one: O’Ree was 22 upon breaking the NHL’s color barrier, and his No. 22 jersey is set to await TD Garden’s rafters for many years to come. 

The Boston Bruins retired O’Ree’s jersey ahead of their house video game Tuesday versus the Carolina Hurricanes, an honor O’Ree “never imagined” would come. O’Ree’s jersey is now amongst 12 retired by Boston, consisting of Eddie Shore, Lionel Hitchman, Bobby Orr, Dit Clapper, Phil Esposito, Cam Neely, Johnny Bucyk, Milt Schmidt, Rick Middleton, Terry O’Reilly and Ray Bourque.

O’Ree, who joined his jersey-retirement event practically, stated he’ll “never forget how my teammates in the Bruins locker room accepted me as one of their own” throughout a time when “some of the fans and opposing players were not ready to see a Black man in the NHL.” 

But O’Ree fought more than racial discrimination to reach his objective of playing in the NHL. A puck hit O’Ree’s best eye throughout a junior video game, shattering his retina. O’Ree stated the medical professional informed him he’d be blind and never ever play hockey once again. 

The prospective career-ending injury didn’t stage O’Ree. 

“I told myself, ‘Willie, forget about what you can’t see and focus on what you can see.’ Three years later, I was called up to the Bruins to play my first NHL game,” the 86-year-old O’Ree stated. “From a young age, my heart and mind were set on making it to the NHL. I am grateful and honored it was with the Bruins.”

O’Ree, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a contractor in 2018, played 45 video games throughout 2 seasons with the Bruins, per Hockey Reference. The previous winger has actually functioned as the NHL’s variety ambassador because 1998, assisting develop the league’s Hockey is for Everyone effort. 

The Hockey for Everyone effort is trying to grow the video game amongst kids with varied backgrounds. O’Ree currently functioned as a strong example by being the NHL’s very first Black gamer, and the Bruins jersey retirement just contributes to his famous status. 

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