Legends of Hockey -- NHL Player Search -- Player -- Willie O'Ree
While Willie O'Ree's NHL career consisted of just 45 games over two seasons, it is the historical impact of his NHL career that has led him to Honoured Member status in the Hockey Hall of Fame.


Born on October 15, 1935 in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Willie O'Ree was a prolific junior scorer with the Kitchener Canucks of the Ontario Hockey Association in 1955-56. The following next season O'Ree joined the Quebec Aces, a senior team affiliated with the NHL's Boston Bruins. Willie tallied 22 times, helping the Aces win the Edinburgh Trophy, awarded to the winners of a series between the senior champions of the Western Hockey League and the Quebec Hockey League.


"When I went to Quebec (Frontenacs of the Quebec Junior Hockey League) the first year (1954-55), Phil Watson was the coach. He said, 'Willie, you know there are no black players in the NHL. You could be the first. You have the skills, you have the ability.' When I went to Kitchener (in 1955-56), (coach) Jack Stewart told me the same thing. When I turned pro with the Quebec Aces (in 1956-57), (general manager) Punch Imlach told me the same thing. It started to register with me. That gave me the extra confidence I needed."


Sure enough, the Boston Bruins summoned Willie O'Ree to Montreal on January 18, 1958 to replace an injured player in that night's contest against the Canadiens, making him the first player of colour to play in the NHL. While breaking the colour barrier in the NHL didn't carry the magnitude that Jackie Robinson's debut with baseball's Brooklyn Dodgers did, nevertheless, it was a historic moment in the game's history.


That stint lasted but two games before O'Ree was returned to the Aces, but on November 18, 1960, Willie was again recalled to the Bruins. He ended up playing 43 games on left wing for Boston that season, scoring four goals and 10 assists.


It was an unenlightened era, and while Willie had endured racial taunts throughout his hockey career, visiting NHL arenas was no different. He was taunted by fans, especially in the United States. Following that season, O'Ree was traded to the Montreal Canadiens. Willie never again played in the NHL, but his playing career would continue in the minors until 1979.


The magnitude of Willie O'Ree's hockey career as a black player cannot be underestimated. The second black player to join the NHL was Mike Marson, and that did not take place until the 1974-75 season with the Washington Capitals. O'Ree's NHL career, albeit brief, opened the door for other players of various races to dream about NHL careers.


While working for a San Diego hotel in 1998, the NHL hired Willie as the Director of Youth Development for its diversity task force. The NHL/USA Hockey Diversity Task Force is a non-profit program that encourages minority youngsters to play hockey. The results are palpable. And in addition, NHL players are now required to enroll in a pre-season diversity training seminar, and race-based verbal abuse is punished through suspensions and fines.


Willie O'Ree's career, including his pioneering NHL breakthrough, has been widely recognized. His hometown of Fredericton added O'Ree to its Sports Wall of Fame in 1992, and in 2008, the city named a new sports complex after him. He was elected to the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 1984, and in 2005, was named to the Order of New Brunswick. In 2006, O'Ree was added to the Black Ice Hockey and Sports Hall of Fame. He was honoured by the NHL during the 2008 NHL All-Star Game in Atlanta. San Diego State University presented Willie with an award for Outstanding Commitment to Diversity and Cross-Cultural Understanding in 2008. That same year, he was inducted into the San Diego Hall of Champions honouring that city's finest athletes. In 2003, O'Ree received the NHL's Lester Patrick Trophy for his contributions to hockey in the United States. And then, in 2008, Willie O'Ree received the Order of Canada, the highest civilian award given to a Canadian Citizen.


In 2018, the NHL introduced the Willie O'Ree Community Hero Award, presented to the person who best utilizes hockey as a platform for participants to build character and develop important life skills for a more positive family experience.


REGULAR SEASON PLAYOFFS
Season Club League GP G A TP PIM +/- GP G A TP PIM
1950-51 Fredericton Falcons NBAHA 2 0 0 0 4
1951-52 Fredericton Merchants YCHL 6 10 4 14 2 8 10 5 15 18
1951-52 Fredericton Jr. Capitals NBJHL 3 2 0 2 0
1952-53 Fredericton Jr. Capitals NBJHL 12 15 3 18 6 4 5 0 5 2
1952-53 Fredericton Capitals NBSHL 2 2 0 2 0
1953-54 Fredericton Capitals NBSHL 23 7 11 18 15 18 8 5 13 6
1953-54 Fredericton Capitals Al-Cup 7 7 5 12 4
1954-55 Quebec Frontenacs QJHL 43 27 17 44 41 9 4 3 7 8
1954-55 Quebec Frontenacs M-Cup 8 3 3 6 2
1955-56 Kitchener Canucks OHA-Jr. 41 30 28 58 38 8 4 3 7 6
1956-57 Quebec Aces QHL 68 22 12 34 80 10 3 3 6 10
1956-57 Quebec Aces Ed-Cup 6 1 1 2 2
1957-58 Boston Bruins NHL 2 0 0 0 0
1957-58 Springfield Indians AHL 6 0 0 0 0
1957-58 Quebec Aces QHL 57 13 19 32 43 9 4 2 6 8
1958-59 Quebec Aces QHL 56 9 21 30 74
1959-60 Kingston Frontenacs EPHL 50 21 25 46 41
1960-61 Boston Bruins NHL 43 4 10 14 26
1960-61 Hull-Ottawa Canadiens EPHL 16 10 9 19 21
1961-62 Hull-Ottawa Canadiens EPHL 12 1 2 3 18
1961-62 Los Angeles Blades WHL 54 28 26 54 57
1962-63 Los Angeles Blades WHL 64 25 26 51 41 3 2 3 5 2
1963-64 Los Angeles Blades WHL 60 17 18 35 45 12 4 8 12 10
1964-65 Los Angeles Blades WHL 70 38 21 59 75
1965-66 Los Angeles Blades WHL 62 33 33 66 30
1966-67 Los Angeles Blades WHL 68 34 26 60 58
1967-68 San Diego Gulls WHL 66 21 33 54 54 7 2 2 4 6
1968-69 San Diego Gulls WHL 70 38 41 79 63 7 3 3 6 12
1969-70 San Diego Gulls WHL 66 24 22 46 50 6 6 3 9 4
1970-71 San Diego Gulls WHL 66 18 15 33 47 6 4 1 5 14
1971-72 San Diego Gulls WHL 48 16 17 33 42 4 0 1 1 2
1972-73 New Haven Nighthawks AHL 50 21 24 45 41
1972-73 San Diego Gulls WHL 18 6 5 11 18 6 1 4 5 2
1973-74 San Diego Gulls WHL 73 30 28 58 89 4 3 3 6 0
1974-75 San Diego Charms SoCalSr.
1975-76 San Diego Charms SoCalSr.
1976-77
1977-78
1978-79 San Diego Mariners PCL 53 21 25 46 37
NHL Totals 45 4 10 14 26


WHL Second All-Star Team (1969)
Lester Patrick Trophy (2003)
Traded to Montreal by Boston with Stan Maxwell for Cliff Pennington and Terry Gray, June, 1961. Traded to LA Blades (WHL) by Montreal for cash, November 10, 1961. Traded to San Diego (WHL) by LA Blades (WHL) for cash, July, 1967. Selected by LA Sharks (WHA) in WHA General Player Draft, February 12, 1972.
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