The National Hockey League will honour the legacy of Willie O’Ree, observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and celebrate equality with the addition of a commemorative helmet decal over the next six weeks.
Beginning with the weekend of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the United States on January 16th and ending with the conclusion of Black History Month on February 28th all thirty-one NHL clubs will wear a decal featuring a portrait of O’Ree inside a black and silver shield, a banner above and below reads CELEBRATING EQUALITY.
Despite losing sight in his right eye as a child, O’Ree excelled in hockey and ended up playing the game professionally for 21 years. He made his National Hockey League début as a 22-year-old on January 18, 1958, when he suited up for the Boston Bruins for their game that night in Montreal becoming the first black player in the league’s history. O’Ree didn’t factor on the scoresheet in his brief two-game stint with the Bruins that season before he was sent down to the AHL’s Springfield Indians. He returned to the NHL in 1960, this time notching 4 goals and 10 assists over 43 games, scoring his first career goal on New Year’s Day 1961.
Since his playing days ended, O’Ree has become an ambassador for the game. He was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018, the NHL introduced the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award presented “to an individual who – through the game of hockey – has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society” in 2017, and the Boston Bruins will retire his number 22 on February 18th of this year.