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Bruins to honor NHL’s first Black player by retiring No. 22

Willie O'Ree will be the 12th Bruin to have his number retired, and it'll come 64 years to the day after he broke the league's color barrier.

Willie O'Ree
Former Boston Bruins wing Willie O'Ree tips his hat as he is honored prior to the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Montreal Canadiens. Associated Press

Sixty-four years after he broke the NHL’s color barrier, Willie O’Ree’s No. 22 is headed for the TD Garden rafters.

It’s an honor long overdue, and not only because a before postponing it until fans could be in the building. It was on Jan. 18, 1958, that O’Ree became the first Black player to take the ice for an NHL game – and he remained the league’s lone Black player until 1974. He played two games for the Bruins that season, then 43 more in 1960-61 before being dealt to Montreal. Although he was legally blind by the time he reached the Bruins, he went on to play 21 seasons of pro hockey, totaling four goals and 10 assists at the NHL level. O’Ree was named the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador in 1998, and 20 years later was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a “builder.”

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The Bruins’ second jersey retirement ceremony since 2004 will take place a half-hour before the Bruins face off with the Carolina Hurricanes, beginning at 6:30. (Rick Middleton’s No. 16 was most recent among the previous 11 numbers to be immortalized.) At the start of the month, tickets for the game were still available, starting at $60. 

In addition to the on-ice ceremony (which will be televised by NESN), the NHL’s Black Hockey History Mobile Museum will be in Boston for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. According to the Bruins, the museum celebrates “the founders, trail blazers, and Stanley Cup champions in Black Hockey History.” The first 10,000 fans in attendance will also receive a commemorative poster, a random 10 of which O’Ree will autograph, and the ProShop will also sell merchandise to mark the occasion, with proceeds benefiting the Boston Bruins Foundation and SCORE Boston.

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