NHL Pioneer Willie O’Ree

Most people know that Jackie Robinson was a pioneer when he took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. His Hall of Fame baseball career broke barriers and inspired many others to follow in his footsteps But do you know who else played the same role in other professional sports? If you don't know, you're about to find out!" With hockey season right around the corner, we thought we would take a look at the player who broke the race barrier in the NHL Willie O'Ree, the first African-American to play in the National Hockey League, was born on October 15, 1935 A two-sport star growing up, O'Ree was once invited to a tryout with the Milwaukee Braves. Speaking of baseball, after winning a junior championship in Canada, his team was invited to New York to watch the Brooklyn Dodgers. Can you guess who Willie O'Ree met that day? That's right, Jackie Robinson himself. Willie informed his hero of his plans to play professional hockey. His NHL career almost ended before it started. During the 1955-56 season, O'Ree was struck with an errant puck to the right eye, an injury so serious that he permanently lost 95% of the vision in that eye. Doctors advised him to stop playing, but O'Ree was back on the ice a mere weeks later. Years later, while playing for the Quebec Aces of the Quebec Hockey League, O'Ree got THE call and on January 18th, 1958, he made his NHL debut for the Boston Bruins. Willie O'Ree only played two NHL games in 1957-58 and another 43 in 1960-61, but his impact on the game and League that he loves continues today. In 1998, long after his 20-year pro career ended, O'Ree was named the Director of Youth Development for the NHL Diversity Task Force. O'Ree has been recognized with many honors including the prestigious Order of Canada in 2010, the highest civilian award given in the country. This honor came two years after his Fredericton's Scotiabank Park North Complex was officially named Willie O'Ree Place