Willie O’Ree Honored at the Embassy of Canada

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Posted February 27, 2019

O’Ree with Gary Bettman. (Caps Outsider)

After dropping the ceremonial puck at the Caps game on Tuesday, Willie O’Ree, the first black hockey player to compete in the NHL, was honored at the Embassy of Canada on Wednesday. Speakers included NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Canada’s Ambassador to the United States David MacNaughton, Congressman Mike Quigley, Congressman and former hockey player Pete Stauber, and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. Guests included folks from the Congressional Hockey Caucus.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who wasn’t there, sent along a message. “Tonight, we gather to celebrate the life achievements of an esteemed sports legend. Willie O’Ree, just like hockey, is one of Canada’s greatest exports. Mr. O’Ree spread a message of perseverance and hope through hockey. He led by example and encouraged countless other minority players to pursue their dreams, while making the world of competitive sports more inclusive and diverse.”

“We don’t agree on everything but we all agree on you Willie,” Pressley said.

While O’Ree was the first black player in the NHL, he acknowledged another player who should have come before him. “Herb Carnegie, when he went to the Rangers training camp, he was by far the better player there but apparently because of his color he wasn’t accepted. And then he went to Toronto and the same thing…”

O’Ree made his NHL debut on Jan.18, 1958, playing for the Boston Bruins. He is the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador and Director of Youth Development. He’s helped establish 39 local grassroots hockey programs, and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018, in the Builders category.

“I played in the original 6. Now we’ve got 31. Seattle is coming in a couple of years. I can predict that there is going to be more not only players of color, but black players coming up and getting the opportunity to play.”