It has been a big year so far for Willie O’Ree – full of accolades as he marked 60 years since becoming the first black player in the National Hockey League – but there’s one more honour O’Ree, his friends, and fans are hoping for.
The league will announce Tuesday if he’ll be among this year’s inductees into the Hockey Hall of Fame, as a builder.
O’Ree played just 45 games in the NHL, but his supporters say his true legacy will be the work he continues to do as diversity ambassador and the Hockey is for Everyone program to encourage children of colour to play the game.
David Sansom, a close friend in O’Ree’s hometown of Fredericton, New Brunswick, and one of the people responsible for a 76-page submission to the Hockey Hall of Fame, says getting O’Ree into the Hall of Fame is long overdue.
Now, at the age of 82, O’Ree says it would mean a lot to get into the Hall of Fame, and is pleased that so many more children of colour are playing the game.
Many politicians and NHL alumni wrote letters of support for O’Ree’s Hall of Fame bid.
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A group of O’Ree’s friends plan to gather at a Fredericton restaurant Tuesday to watch the Hall of Fame announcement on television, with hope of hearing his name on the list.
O’Ree says he plans to stay close to the phone at his home in San Diego, hoping to get a call from Lanny MacDonald – the chairman of the Hall of Fame board.
He says he’s leaving the day open, but added that he’ll have his fingers crossed.