Bauer on Wednesday unveiled a stylish set of skates to honor ex-Bruins winger Willie O’Ree, but the flashy new blades have not landed in the Bruins dressing room yet.
The skates, which feature O’Ree’s portrait, number (22) and words (“All I needed was the opportunity”), pay tribute to O’Ree as the first player of Black heritage to play in the NHL. The skates also include the date of his NHL debut (Jan. 18, 1958), the night he stepped on Montreal Forum ice as a Bruins callup from the Quebec Aces.
In the next few days, upward of a dozen NHL players will have received the skates and will wear them in warm-ups and possibly game action. They’ll then be auctioned off, along with T-shirts, with all proceeds to benefit the Black Girls Hockey Club, a non-profit organization dedicated to uniting Black women in the hockey community.
Forwards Patrick Kane (Chicago) and William Nylander (Toronto) were among the first NHLers to have the skates shipped to them by Bauer, headquartered in Exeter, N.H. The skates were assembled at a Bauer factory in Blainville, Quebec, some 25 miles northwest of the old Montreal Forum.
A Bauer spokesperson on Wednesday said it had not been determined if any Bruins players would be among the NHLers to receive the “O’Ree” skates.
“That’s great if they have them,” said defenseman Kevan Miller, only hearing about the skates for the first time on Wednesday. “My understanding is that we’re celebrating Willie next year when we have some fans [inside TD Garden].”
The Bruins announced last month they would retire O’Ree’s No. 22 to the Garden rafters, and initially planned to have the ceremony Thursday with the Devils in town. They then decided to wait and instead will honor O’Ree, now 85, years old, prior to a game on Causeway St. Jan. 18, 2022 (opponent yet unknown, but the Canadiens would be a lead contender).
“It’ll be pretty cool to see how [the skates] came out,” said Bruins center Charlie Coyle.
O’Ree, who grew up in Fredericton, New Brunswick, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 2018. For the better part of a quarter century, he has been the face of the NHL’s diversity task force, much of his work aimed at growing the game in US and Canadian cities, where many minority athletes historically have had limited access to participate in the sport.