10 Things You May Not Know About Willie O’Ree
With Black History Month upon us, we are excited to unveil a new coin honouring Canadian sports hero, Willie O’Ree. Though he was the first to break hockey’s colour barrier, many still do not know much about this impactful trailblazer. Here are 10 facts you may not have known about him.
1. Willie got the call to join the Boston Bruins and became the first Black player to skate in a National Hockey League (NHL) game on January 18, 1958.
2. At the age of 14, Willie met famed baseball hero Jackie Robinson attending a Brooklyn Dodgers game with his youth baseball team. Jackie was a major influence on a young Willie.
3. A grassroots movement originating in his hometown of Fredericton, NB finally sparked Willie’s nomination and induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder of the game in 2018.
4. While playing junior hockey in 1956, a puck struck Willie in the face and left him blind in his right eye. He kept this impairment secret, as it would have halted his eventual ascension to the NHL.
5. Willie received the Order of New Brunswick in 2005 and then the Order of Canada in 2010.
6. Willie retired from professional hockey at the age of 43, playing 21 seasons with stops in the NHL, QHL (Quebec Hockey League), WHL (Western Hockey League), and EPHL (Eastern Professional Hockey League).
7. Willie started skating at the young age of three in his hometown of Fredericton, NB, where hockey is an integral part of the cultural identity.
8. Willie has been the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador since 1998. Even at 84 years young, he continues to visit with children across North America to show them that the sport he loves is for everyone.
9. Willie credits his hockey idols Herb and Ossie Carnegie and Manny MacIntyre with paving the way for his promotion into the NHL. Unfortunately, the trio of talented Black players never made it that far.
10. Willie won the WHL scoring title twice between 1961 and 1974. He tallied 30+ goals four times while setting career-highs with 38 during the 1964-65 and 1968-69 seasons.
Not only is Willie O’Ree an important figure in the sports community, but a beacon of inspiration for anyone striving to make a difference. His perseverance and passion to achieve his goals makes Willie the perfect person to immortalize on this beautiful work of art.