Bruins officially retire No. 22 jersey of Willie O’Ree, NHL’s first Black player

"I am overwhelmed and thrilled to be a part of the Bruins forever."

Willie O'Ree
The #22 of Boston Bruin Willie O'Ree is hoisted to the rafters of the TD Boston Garden during a ceremony prior to an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, in Boston. O'Ree, the NHL's first Black player, attended the ceremony remotely via video. AP Photo/Charles Krupa

The Bruins had to wait an additional year to retire the No. 22 jersey of Willie O’Ree due to COVID-19 but on Tuesday, they finally made the honor official.

O’Ree, who is now 86 years old, did not attend the ceremony due to COVID concerns, but he made a virtual appearance on the Jumbotron.

“I am honored to have had the pleasure of playing before you,” O’Ree said. “Thank you for your tremendous love and support. This is an unforgettable day. I am overwhelmed and thrilled to be a part of the Bruins forever.”

Here’s O’Ree’s full speech.

O’Ree debuted in 1958. He played 45 games in the NHL, spending much of his career in the minor leagues. In 2018, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame and the Bruins announced their intention to make him the 12th player in franchise history to have his number retired last year. Since the late ’90s, he has acted as the NHL’s Good Will Ambassador.


Later Tuesday evening, O’Ree told reporters he didn’t realize he broke the color barrier.

“I will never forget how my teammates in the Bruins locker room accepted me as one of their own,” he said. “This was a time when some of the fans and opposing players were not ready to see a Black man in the NHL.”

Boston mayor Michelle Wu tweeted that “City Hall is lit up in gold tonight” prior to the game in honor of O’Ree and declared Tuesday “Willie O’Ree Day” in Boston.


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