When Willie O'Ree stepped onto the ice on January 18, 1958, he wasn't just making his NHL debut-he was making history. Celebrate this pure silver tribute to this Canadian-born hockey player, who became the first black player to compete in the NHL. A story of courage and determination, O'Ree had to overcome discrimination and a competitive disadvantage to make his hockey dreams come true in the Original Six era. By breaking the league's racial barrier, O'Ree's legacy can't be found in any scoring stats-it's in the path he carved for future generations of black players who left their own imprint on the game.Born and raised in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Willie O'Ree played his way up the ranks of junior hockey in Fredericton, Quebec City and Kitchener-Waterloo, where the fast-skating left-winger proved to have an intuitive scoring touch. Signed by the Boston Bruins in 1957, O'Ree's big break came on January 18, 1958, when the three-time 20-goal scorer was called up as a replacement for a game against the Montreal Canadiens.
O'Ree played one more game for the Bruins before returning to Quebec, but his play earned him another call-up to the Bruins on November 18, 1960. O'Ree played 43 games in the NHL during the 1960-61 season, scoring four goals and 10 assists while enduring racist taunts by opposing players and fans. It proved to be his last season in the NHL; traded to the Montreal Canadiens, O'Ree played 14 seasons in the minors before hanging up his skates in 1979. He is a Lester Patrick Trophy winner, the inspiration for the Willie O'Ree Community Hero Award, and the recipient of both the Order of Canada and the Order of New Brunswick.O'Ree's induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018 cemented his place in hockey history, by recognizing the far-reaching effects of his career. O'Ree was partially blind. During his time with the Kitchener Canucks, in the 1955-56 season, a deflected puck struck O'Ree in the face and he lost 95% of his vision in his right eye and was told to stop playing. But 10 days later, O'Ree was back on the ice.
He kept his partial blindness a secret since this would have made him ineligible to play in the NHL. O'Ree was also the first black player to score an NHL goal. It was a game-winner, too-it helped Boston beat the visiting Montreal Canadiens on New Year's Day 1961 by a score of 3-2, and it earned O'Ree a standing ovation from the home crowd.