NEW YORK & TORONTO – The Hockey Hall of Fame has announced Tuesday that Willie O’Ree, the first black player ever to play in the National Hockey League, was elected to be inducted as a member of the Class of 2018.
O’Ree, who made his NHL debut on Jan.18, 1958, playing for the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens in the Montreal Forum, is a trailblazer who paved the way for the players of diverse ethnic backgrounds who have succeeded him in the subsequent 60 years. In his roles as NHL Diversity Ambassador and Director of Youth Development over the last 20 years, O’Ree has helped establish 39 local grassroots hockey programs and inspired countless young people to play the game in its many forms.
O’Ree will enter the Hall in the Builders category. He will be inducted Nov. 12, 2018, along with Players Martin Brodeur, Jayna Hefford, Martin St. Louis and Alexander Yakushev and fellow Builder, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
The announcement of the Class of 2018 was made by Hockey Hall of Fame Chairman Lanny McDonald following Tuesday’s meeting of the Hall’s Selection Committee.
“There are a select few about whom it truly can be said: ‘He changed the game.’ Willie O’Ree is among that select few,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “He did it by stepping onto the ice of the Montreal Forum in a Boston Bruins sweater on Jan. 18, 1958. He has done it just about every day since, inspiring generations of NHL players who followed the path he blazed and working tirelessly to encourage and enable countless boys and girls, who otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity, to participate in our game and learn the many life lessons it teaches. We are truly delighted at Willie’s well-earned selection.”
“Sometimes, goals, assists, points or shutouts measure a person’s place in the game,” Hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky said. “But desire, determination, work ethic and the drive not to let obstacles get in his way? That is why Willie has earned his induction into the Hall.”
“Willie paved the path for the rest of us. In that way he is a true builder of the game,” said Hockey Hall of Famer Grant Fuhr. “If you look up the word ‘builder’ there should be a picture of Willie. He is the Jackie Robinson of hockey.”