Hurricanes Bruins Hockey

The No. 22 of Boston Bruin Willie O’Ree is hoisted to the rafters of the TD Boston Garden during a ceremony prior to an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, in Boston. O’Ree, the NHL’s first Black player, attended the ceremony remotely via video. AP Photo/Charles Krupa

BOSTON — The Boston Bruins retired jersey No. 22 in honor of Willie O’Ree, the first Black player to compete in the National Hockey League, on Tuesday.

“I never expected, when I started playing hockey, that I’d have my number retired up there in the rafters, with so many icons and so many greats,” O’Ree told current Bruins players during a video call shared by the organization.

O’Ree, 86, was called up by the Bruins during his second season with the minor league Quebec Aces. The winger made his debut on the Boston ice on Jan. 18, 1958, against the Montreal Canadiens.

He played 43 games for the Bruins in the 1960-61 season, in addition to his two appearances in 1958, and scored four goals and tallied 10 assists. Although the Bruins didn’t know it at the time, O’Ree had been blinded in one eye by a puck years before, and played the game half-blind.

“When I scored my first goal in the Garden, they give me a two-minute standing ovation. I’ll never forget it,” O’Ree said.

O’Ree told the team he was “overwhelmed and thrilled” by the honor. He joins 11 other players enshrined in the rafters at TD Garden: Lionel Hitchman, Dit Clapper, Eddie Shore, Milt Schmidt, Bobby Orr, John Bucyk, Phil Esposito, Ray Bourque, Terry O’Reilly, Cam Neely and Rick Middleton.


“You’ve given hope to so many people and inspired so many over the years — hockey players, or really anyone, on and off the ice,” Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron told O’Ree during the team call.

The Bruins raised O’Ree’s sweater ahead of the evening’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes. O’Ree was unable to attend in person, but he delivered comments through a video call from his family’s California home.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu proclaimed Jan. 18 “Willie O’Ree Day” in the city, and numerous landmarks lit up yellow in his honor, including TD Garden, the Prudential Center, City Hall, Gillette Stadium, Fenway Park and the Zakim Bridge.

The Bruins ProShop at TD Garden will also sell commemorative Willie O’Ree gear through January, with net proceeds going to the Boston Bruins Foundation and SCORE Boston Hockey, an organization that brings hockey to inner-city kids.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: