Willie O’Ree happy Bruins gave him a chance
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in The Boston Globe (then called the Daily Boston Globe) on Jan. 20, 1958.
Willie O’Ree, who became the first Negro player in the history of the National Hockey League as a member of the Bruins lineup in the weekend games against Montreal, had just about the same reaction as any other rookie.
“I’m just happy to get a chance up here, that’s about all I can say,” was Willie’s reaction to writers and other well-wishers in the Boston room.
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.
“They’re mostly all from folks in my home town,” Willie explained.
The home town is Fredericton, New Brunswick, where O’Ree broke into the game before moving into organized competition with the junior Kitchener-Waterloo club in Milt Schmidt’s old home area.
Scored 22 goals
In his first pro season with Quebec last year, O’Ree scored 22 goals as a left winger in the regular season and had three in 10 playoff games while his team was winning the Edinburgh Cup playoffs.
O’Ree is one of two Negro players the Bruins are grooming as possible big league prospects. The other is forward Stanley Maxwell, a teammate of Willie at Quebec. Both were in the Boston training camp last Fall and played in exhibition games with the Bruins.
O’Ree saw sporadic service Saturday night in Montreal on the line with center Don McKenney and Jerry Toppazzini. He had one excellent chance in that game when he was sent in alone with a pass from McKenney, but was robbed by goalie Jacques Plante.
In the early minutes last night, McKenney against fed Willie a good leading pass but the fired into the goalie’s pads as Plante moved to meet his bid.
Boston fans constantly shouted encouragement to O’Ree on his appearances last night, although he did not see much action in the later stages.
Lauded by Patrick
Lynn Patrick, the Bruins’ general manager, commenting on his play said, “He’s a very fast skater, but there are some things he naturally has to learn yet.”
Frank Selke, Patrick’s opposite number in Montreal, also emphasized the same point.
“O’Ree is not only fast, but he’s a strong skater,” Selke told a reporter. “He looks as if he could go all night. I know he always has played well in the Forum when he’s been in with Quebec.”
Willie is with the Boston team on temporary status during the absence of forwards Leo LaBina and Real Chevrefils, both of whom are expected to start practicing today.