Advertisement

Hometown of Willie O’Ree to place skate of NHL player who broke the colour barrier on display

Click to play video 'NHL hopes to improve its lack of diversity decades after colour barrier broken' NHL hopes to improve its lack of diversity decades after colour barrier broken
It’s been 63 years since Willie O’Ree broke the colour barrier in the National Hockey League, yet the number of players who are active in the NHL today pales in comparison to other professional sports leagues. But as Suzette Francis tells us, the league is hoping to change that.

The City of Fredericton wants a pair of skates recognizing an NHL icon to be put in a place of honour in his hometown.

Bauer Hockey recently unveiled a pair of skates with a custom graphic celebrating the achievements and life of Willie O’Ree — the man who broke the NHL’s colour barrier.

Read more: NHL hopes to improve its lack of diversity decades after colour barrier broken

Fredericton Mayor Mike O’Brien has tweeted that Bauer will be providing a pair of commemorative skates to the City of Fredericton.

They’ll be put on permanent display at Willie O’Ree Place.

The skate’s design features an image of O’Ree, his number 22 and phrases that include “diversity,” “equality” and “inclusion.”

Story continues below advertisement

 

Bauer Hockey unveiled custom skates with a design honouring Willie O’Ree as part of Black History Month. Several NHL players plan to wear the skate this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Bauer Hockey

The skates will be worn by several NHL players this week to mark Black History Month and were produced at the Bauer Innovation Centre in Blainville, Que.

Bauer says the graphic was designed and inspired by Terry Smith of Terry Smith Creations, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Wayne Simmonds, European-based forward J.T. Brown and Eustace King, an NHLPA agent.

O’Ree became the NHL’s first Black player when he suited up for the Boston Bruins on Jan. 18, 1958, against the Montreal Canadiens, despite being legally blind in one eye.

Read more: Boston Bruins to retire jersey of Willie O’Ree who broke NHL’s colour barrier

He played two seasons with the Bruins, retiring from professional hockey in 1979.

Story continues below advertisement

Although O’Ree donned No. 18 and No. 25 during his time with the Bruins, he wore number 22 for the bulk of his games with the club.

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.

Click to play video 'Canada Sports Hall of Fame launches Anti-Racism campaign' Canada Sports Hall of Fame launches Anti-Racism campaign
Canada Sports Hall of Fame launches Anti-Racism campaign – Nov 28, 2020

Since 1998, O’Ree has worked for the NHL as a diversity ambassador.

The City of Fredericton says it is planning other events to honour the life of O’Ree.

O’Ree’s number 22 was set to be retired this month by the Boston Bruins.

Bauer Hockey unveiled today a custom skate with a design honouring Willie O’Ree as part of Black History Month. Several NHL players plan to wear the skate this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Bauer Hockey

But COVID-19 has pushed the ceremony back to Jan. 18, 2022, or 64 years to the date that O’Ree made his debut on Jan. 18, 1958.

Story continues below advertisement

The hope is the delay will allow fans to attend the ceremony for the 12th player in franchise history to have his jersey retired.

—With files from The Canadian Press

Read more: Former Frontenacs teammate remembers Willie O’Ree, who played in Kingston in 1959-60