NEW YORK – The NHL has announced the creation of the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award to recognize the commitment of those who are improving lives and strengthening their communities through the game of hockey. It will be presented for the first time at the 2018 NHL Awards™
The Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award — aligned with hockey’s Declaration of Principles and named after trailblazer Willie O’Ree, the first black player in the NHL — embodies the spirit of O’Ree’s work over the last two decades, during which he has worked tirelessly in grassroots hockey to inspire underserved, marginalized and disadvantaged youth to set goals and follow their dreams.
The award will be presented to a person, team, league, rink or association (not affiliated with the NHL or any NHL Club), who best utilizes hockey as a platform for participants to build character and develop important life skills for a more positive family experience.
“I believe in our youth, and in the power of the game of hockey to unlock the on- and off-ice potential of boys and girls around the world,” said O’Ree. “I am honored to be chosen as the namesake for this award, which will shine a light on many others within the hockey community who share a similar belief, passion, and vision of the future of this game.”
“We are privileged to honor Willie with the creation of this new community award,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. “He has dedicated his life to equality and inclusion; to supporting young people of all backgrounds who are following their dreams; and to using hockey as a platform to build character and teach life skills.”
Beginning on May 1, anyone who has shown they embody those ideals within youth and community hockey (people, teams, leagues, rinks or associations) may be nominated in one of two ways:
- Directly on a chosen social media platform (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) via a post (video or photo + detailed caption) and the use of the hashtag, #NHLOReeAward; OR
- Directly via an online form which can be downloaded and submitted on www.nhl.com/OReeAward
A committee, including O’Ree himself, will narrow the field down to six finalists from all submitted nominations before opening the voting to the public to cast their ballots online from May 15th-May 30th.
The winner of the inaugural Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award will be invited to participate in the 2018 NHL Awards™.
About Willie O’Ree
Willie O’Ree is the National Hockey League’s Diversity Ambassador for the Hockey is for Everyone initiative, a post he has held since January 1998. On January 18, 1958, playing for the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens, he became the first black person to play in the NHL — an extraordinary event that paved the way for future players of diverse ethnic backgrounds.
O’Ree played 45 games with the Bruins from 1958-61. His long professional career spanned 21 seasons, mostly in the Western Hockey League (WHL) with the Los Angeles Blades and the San Diego Gulls.
As Diversity Ambassador, O’Ree has helped the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone initiative introduce more than 120,000 boys and girls of diverse backgrounds to unique hockey experiences. Over the past decade, O’Ree has traveled thousands of miles across North America helping to establish 26 local grassroots hockey programs, all geared towards serving economically disadvantaged youth. While advocating strongly that “Hockey is for Everyone,” O’Ree stresses the importance of essential life skills, education, and the core values of hockey, which are: commitment, perseverance, and teamwork.
O’Ree himself has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors. In addition to being inducted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 1984, he received the Lester Patrick Award for outstanding service to hockey in the United States in 2003. In 2007 O’Ree became the inaugural recipient of the Bill Walsh Champion of Change Award, which recognizes an individual whose tenaciousness of purpose paved a path of opportunity to everyone. In January 2008 the Fredericton, New Brunswick City Council named their new hockey arena after O’Ree in honor of his accomplishments.
In April 2010 O’Ree received the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest civilian honor. He is the first black hockey player ever to receive the prestigious award.
In June 2011 O’Ree received the Sports Museum’s Hockey Legacy Award in recognition of his trailblazing NHL career and his many contributions to the hockey community.
O’Ree resides in San Diego, California with his wife, Deljeet, and daughter Chandra.