On Tuesday night at TD Garden, the Bruins will retire the No. 22 of Willie O’Ree, the first Black man to play in the NHL.
The ceremony is a long time coming — it had originally been scheduled for February 2021, but was pushed back to Martin Luther King Jr. weekend 2022 to allow fans to attend amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Tuesday marks 64 years to the day he made made his debut.
O’Ree will not be in attendance, and will instead join virtually from his home in San Diego due to an abundance of caution surrounding the pandemic.
“He’s in great health,” said Bryant McBride, a longtime friend. “He’s excited. He’s humbled and he’s overwhelmed by the whole thing. He was only at the top level for a little bit, but he found a way to add to the game in a way people couldn’t ignore.”
The ceremony begins at 7 p.m. You can watch on NESN, NHL Network, stream it on NHL.com, and listen on 98.5.
In addition to the ceremony, players from all teams on the ice tonight — not just the Hurricanes and the Bruins — will wear a special No. 22 helmet decal to honor O’Ree’s legacy.
O’Ree’s number will be the 12th retired by the Bruins.
O’Ree, 86, was born in New Brunswick and made his debut in the NHL in January 1958. He played 45 games in the NHL, and spent more than two decades playing pro hockey, despite being legally blind in one eye.
O’Ree has worked for the NHL since 1998, developing non-profit hockey programs for kids in the United States and Canada.
Boston will also celebrate O’Ree’s legacy by lighting landmarks up in gold, including: Boston City Hall, the Prudential Center, TD Garden, Gillette Stadium, Fenway Park, the Ducklings at Boston Public Garden, Zakim Bridge, Rose Kennedy Greenway, One International Place, Hyatt Cambridge, Longfellow Bridge and Boston Harbor Hotel.
Jan. 18, 2022, has also been named Will O’Ree Day in Boston.
Here’s more on O’Ree:
- The House of Representatives recently reached the required 290 co-sponsors for a vote to present O’Ree with a Congressional Gold Medal.
- Read about the work O’Ree has done to grow the sport of hockey in Matt Porter’s Sunday Hockey Notes.
- Read the Globe’s story from Jan. 20, 1958, after O’Ree made his debut. “The nice-looking young man (he’s 22) grinned at the kidding remarks of his new teammates about the large stack of wires he had received before both games in Montreal and at the Garden,” Tom Fitzgerald wrote.
- Read Kevin Paul Dupont’s story about O’Ree when the NHL and Bruins teamed up with the city of Boston to build Willie O’Ree Rink in Allston-Brighton. “My older brother, my mentor, always told me, ‘Willie, you can’t change the color of your skin, and you wouldn’t even want to,’” O’Ree said.