Willie O’Ree is a former professional ice hockey player, best known for breaking the color barrier in the National Hockey League (NHL). He was born on October 15, 1935, in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. On January 18, 1958, O’Ree made history when he became the first black player to participate in an NHL game. He played as a forward for the Boston Bruins in a game against the Montreal Canadiens. O’Ree’s debut marked a significant milestone in the fight against racial discrimination in professional hockey.
Despite facing racial prejudice and discrimination throughout his career, O’Ree persevered and played professional hockey for many years. He played in the NHL for the Boston Bruins and later for the Los Angeles Blades and San Diego Gulls of the Western Hockey League (WHL).
Beyond his playing career, O’Ree became an advocate for diversity and inclusion in hockey. In 1998, the NHL established the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award to recognize individuals who, like O’Ree, have made a positive impact on their communities through hockey. In January 2021, O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, recognizing his significant contributions to the sport and his trailblazing role as a pioneer for black players in the NHL.
Willie O’Ree lives in Southern California where he is the Director of Youth Development for the NHL/USA Hockey Diversity Task Force, a non-profit program for minority youth that encourages them to learn and play hockey.