In 1958, Willie O’Ree made history by becoming the first black player to ever appear in an NHL game. The forward made his debut skating for the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens on January 18, 1958.
Sixty years later, O’Ree’s accomplishment has paved the way for many NHL players playing today. NBCSN made a video honoring O’Ree for breaking the color barrier and his achievements on and off the ice.
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) January 18, 2018
The NHL spoke to a handful of diverse players, including Capitals skaters Madison Bowey, Devante Smith-Pelly, and TJ Oshie on what O’Ree’s accomplishment meant to them.
Madison Bowey, Washington Capitals defenseman
“He’s a big reason why I’m playing hockey today and why other [black players] have a chance to play in the NHL. It goes a long way what he does. We’re definitely proud of him and what he did is pretty huge. He’s why I wear 22 because he was the first [black] player to play in the NHL, so he has a lot of history for me and it’s definitely a big deal in my life. My dad kind of educated me on him a bit growing up. His story is pretty special and it’s something I always think of, too. It’s special for all of us. We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for him.”
Devante Smith-Pelly, Washington Capitals forward
“Obviously, he was a pioneer in the game. That was a long time ago, way before me. But just reading about him and knowing the barriers he broke, hearing some of the stories about him having to go into small towns and play, and some of the things he had to go through, you’re thankful that guys in this day and age don’t have to go through what he went through. Obviously, a great pioneer to break the color barrier in hockey and started opening up the game to more minorities.”
TJ Oshie, Washington Capitals forward
“I think everyone can appreciate what he did. The barrier he was able to break, it’s important not only for our sport, but important for America in general, so a pretty special anniversary for the game of hockey.”
Oshie is part Native American, as his father’s side of the family are members of Ojibwe Nation.
During a ceremonial puck drop Wednesday evening, the Boston Bruins, who happened to be playing the Montreal Canadiens, held a ceremony honouring O’Ree.
Today, O’Ree continues to play an important role in making hockey for everyone, serving as the NHL’s diversity ambassador.
Happy 60th Anniversary to Willie O’Ree! Thanks for your tremendous impact to the game of hockey. I had the honor of meeting Mr. O’Ree at a golf tourney in Warroad, MN. His love for the game and the players was contagious. Cheers Willie! #HockeyIsForEveryone pic.twitter.com/278guyS0hP
— TJ Oshie (@TJOshie77) January 18, 2018
— Devante Smith-Pelly (@smithpelly23) January 18, 2018
Headline photo: @NHLPA
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