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Willie O’Ree looks back at the night he broke the NHL’s colour barrier

Willie O'Ree, known best for being the first black player in the National Hockey League, is shown at Willie O'Ree Place in Fredericton, N.B., on Thursday, June 22, 2017. Stephen MacGillivray/The Canadian Press

When Willie O’Ree donned a Boston Bruins jersey and jumped onto the ice at the Montreal Forum on Jan. 18, 1958, he had no idea he was making history.

Just a decade after Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier in baseball, O’Ree had become the first black player in the National Hockey League.

READ MORE: Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s colour barrier – starting in Montreal

Sixty years later, O’Ree looks back fondly on that game and a career in hockey that continues to this day.

25-year-old left wing Willie O’Ree, the first black player of the National Hockey League, warms up in his Boston Bruins uniform, prior to the game with the New York Rangers, at New York’s Madison Square Garden, on November 23, 1960. AP/The Canadian Press

He says he didn’t know he had broken the colour barrier until he read it in the newspaper the next day.

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O’Ree says he was often subjected to racial slurs during his hockey career, but took the advice of his older brother and just concentrated on playing the game.

WATCH: Rising above racism through sport: the historic story of black hockey players in Nova Scotia

Click to play video: 'Rising above racism through sport: the historical story of black hockey players in Nova Scotia' Rising above racism through sport: the historical story of black hockey players in Nova Scotia
Rising above racism through sport: the historical story of black hockey players in Nova Scotia – Oct 12, 2017

He’s pleased that children can play hockey at Willie O’Ree Place, an arena named in his honour in his hometown of Fredericton, New Brunswick.

Now, at the age of 82, O’Ree serves as the NHL’s diversity ambassador, and for the last 20 years he has been going to schools and other locations to speak to young people as part of the Hockey is for Everyone initiative.

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