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 Photo)
By: Mark Allred Follow Me On Twitter @BlackAndGold277
On June 25, 2017, The Hockey Hall of Fame Induction Committee made the call to several great players deserving the honor to have their plaque stored at the famous location in the hockey hotbed of Toronto, Ontario. This year’s class will include two former Bruins that played for the team in Boston and were instrumental pieces in B’s history. Long-time National Hockey League players Dave Andreychuk and Mark Recchi will receive the honor at the 2017 Induction Ceremony on Monday Night, November, 13th. Also from the Bruins being inducted into the Hall of Fame is Owner Jeremy Jacobs who’s accepting the nomination in the builder’s category. An article about the unpopular Bruins owner can be read HERE from Black N’ Gold Productions team member Andrew Thompson, who wrote this article shortly after hearing about the 2017 Class.
Regardless if you agree with the inductions and the roles they played or didn’t play for that matter, I can’t get over the fact that former Bruins forward Willie O’Ree continues to be overlooked for his role in the National Hockey League when he entered the league in 1958. In a world of Hall of Famer’s inducted on lavish careers and Stanley Cup success, I believe Mr. O’Ree should be inducted into the hall, not for his limited time in the NHL but as a builder of something great and a pathway for many talented players of color during a tough time in American History when it comes to race.
For those who don’t know, Willie O’Ree is well known through the hockey community as being compared to baseball’s Jackie Robinson for breaking the color barrier in their respected sports. Now I understand all the intangibles that come with being considered for the hall but when are break throughs in sports history going to take a stand over stats and championship notoriety?
As mentioned Dave Andreychuk and Mark Recchi were former Bruins players and both won championships with their respected teams at those times but when considering O’ree’s career and limited time in the NHL he might be better suited as an inductee in the builder’s category. If an inductee like Jeremy Jacobs can get into the hall as a builder and one of the proprietors of the often league lockouts and don’t forget the league mandated salary cap, how can a man like that get the call over a person like Willie?. With the recent news of the Jacobs family and their negligence to honor a deal, they had with the city of Boston and the continued hockey growth fundraising in the area for a better part of 24 years, I just don’t understand the pecking order when it comes to consideration.
As a player category when the hall gets together, as a long-time Bruins fan myself I would have to go along with Kevin M. Flanagan and his effort to get former Bruins player Rick “Nifty” Middleton consideration as he appeared in over one thousand NHL games and posting 988 points in his 14-year career. With the Bruins Middleton in twelve seasons, the Toronto native posted 402-496-898 numbers in 881 games. As a player, yes I can Agree with Kevin M, Flanagan’s article that can be read HERE but I still want to advocate for O’Ree’s career and how much he’s been an ambassador to so many hockey players of color that have seen a severe increase in the past not only in the NHL but in all areas that hockey’s played worldwide.
O’Ree was born in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada in October of 1935 and played his local hockey growing up with the associated minor leagues from the 1950-51 season to 1953-54 when he left home at the age of 19 to join the upper levels of developmental hockey westward making stops in Quebec with the Frontenacs and Aces to have his Junior Hockey career year with the Kitchener Canucks where he got 58 points in 58 games before joining the NHL’s Boston Bruins in the 1957-58 season playing in two games making him the first black player to ever skate in the NHL. O’Ree’s first official game was on January 18, 1958, against the Montreal Canadiens as he was the best player in the area playing for the Quebec Aces because the Bruins had an injured player and called for emergency relief.
After playing his first two professional games in 1958. O’Ree would be sent down to continue to play and develop in the Candian Minor Leagues until Boston came calling again with a contract audition in the 1960-61 season where he’d play his last National Hockey League games appearing in 43 games and posting 4-10-14 numbers which were career highs. The now 81-year-old had a successful minor-pro stint to end his professional career out in California starting in the 1961-62 season with the Los Angles Blades of the Western Hockey League (Senior League) and the San Diego Gulls. He would end his playing career in 1978-79 playing in a Southern California Senior League.
His time growing up and working hard to get noticed playing the game didn’t come as an easy task in a sport populated with white athletes as O’Ree heard his fair share of racial slurs but said according to Wikipedia saying “Racist remarks were much worse in the U.S. cities than in Toronto and Montreal,” the two Canadian cities hosting NHL teams at the time, and that “Fans would yell, ‘Go back to the South‘ and ‘How come you’re not picking cotton?’ Things like that. It didn’t bother me. I just wanted to be a hockey player, and if they couldn’t accept that fact, that was their problem, not mine.
My point of this article and push is for people and players like Mr. O’Ree that might not get consideration as a player for the Hall, but a look into other areas of nominations that shouldn’t be ignored in my opinion.
Below are some conversations on Twitter who also feel the same way about Willie getting his rightful place in the Hockey Hall of Fame.