Must See: Bruins retire Willie O'Ree's No. 22
U.S. President Joe Biden signed the “Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act” into law, the final step of the process to award O’Ree, the first Black player in the NHL, with the prestigious honor, the White House announced Monday.
“This esteemed honor is befitting Willie O’Ree, a pioneer whose impact on hockey has been groundbreaking, profound and enduring," said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in a statement on Tuesday. "Since 1998, O’Ree has been an ambassador for positive social change using hockey as a platform to build character, teach life skills, and impart the values of hockey - perseverance, teamwork, and dedication.
“A true pioneer and trailblazer, O’Ree can now add another achievement to his list of accolades: the first hockey player to receive the Congressional Gold Medal in its nearly 250-year history. Congratulations Willie, and well deserved.”
O'Ree became the league’s first Black player when he suited up for the Boston Bruins on Jan. 18, 1958, against the Montreal Canadiens. O’Ree, who was legally blind in one eye, played two seasons for the Bruins, retiring from professional hockey in 1979.
O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame class of 2018 as part of the “Builder” category, which honours those who have made significant contributions to the sport.
He played 45 games in his NHL career for the Bruins, notching four goals and 10 assists.
Since 1998, O’Ree has worked for the NHL as a diversity ambassador.
The Bruins retired in No. 22 last month.