Willie O'Ree's jersey retirement night sparks honours and tributes on social media
The loud support of Hockey Twitter showed just how important #Willie22 was for the sport.
Willie O’Ree received a long-overdue honour on Tuesday, as the Boston Bruins retired his jersey prior to their game versus the Carolina Hurricanes.
Willie O'Ree changed the game of hockey forever, and now his #22 will be in the TD Garden rafters forever 🖤💛 #Willie22 pic.twitter.com/nErk85isBv
— B/R Open Ice (@BR_OpenIce) January 19, 2022
O’Ree is a pioneer of the game, as he became the first Black player to ever play in the NHL when he made his debut during the 1957-58 season — exactly on Jan. 18 of that year. Though the Canada native only appeared in two games during that stint, he suited up for another 43, once again with the Bruins, in 1960-61.
But the celebration wasn't limited to the handing of No. 22 from the rafters of TD Garden. On Tuesday, Boston mayor Michelle Wu also declared it Willie O'Ree Day in the city.
It’s official!@MayorWu has proclaimed today - Jan. 18, 2022 - Willie O’Ree Day in the @CityOfBoston. #NHLBruins | #Willie22 pic.twitter.com/830qv8ljC2
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) January 18, 2022
Unfortunately, O’Ree was unable to attend the game in person due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but did participate virtually. Both the Bruins and Hurricanes players, along with the entire crowd in Boston, gave O’Ree a long standing ovation as his banner was lifted to the rafters.
An amazing honor.
On behalf of Willie O'Ree, B's alum @AnsonCarterLA and @scoreboshockey's Dallas Jackson, Toryn Jackson, Austin Nelson, and Donald Craft raised his No. 22 banner to the @tdgarden rafters.#NHLBruins | #Willie22 pic.twitter.com/hvJg10VbG8
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) January 19, 2022
The sports world, in attendance or not, was quick to show its support and admiration through an outpouring of social-media posts.
Tonight my idol Willie O’Ree’s number 22 will be hung from the rafters (Finally). I can’t stress how much Mr O’Ree has meant to me and millions of other BIPOC kids who love the game of hockey… Congratulations MR O’Ree
— Wayne Simmonds (@Simmonds17) January 18, 2022
Tonight Fenway Park goes gold for Willie O’Ree who, on this date in 1958, made history with the @NHLBruins and became the first Black player in the NHL.
Tonight, his No. 22 will be raised to the TD Garden rafters. #Willie22 pic.twitter.com/U4qxVfGgch
— Red Sox (@RedSox) January 18, 2022
Congratulations, Willie O’Ree. This was a long time coming. You changed the game and your continued work has bettered the sport. Your number up in the rafters is a reminder to dream big. #Willie22 pic.twitter.com/yFbNzua8mO
— JT Brown (@JTBrown23) January 18, 2022
Ryan Reaves shared a special message in the @NHLBruins' tribute video ahead of Willie O'Ree's banner-raising ceremony. #Willie22 pic.twitter.com/jVm6Rbzohp
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) January 19, 2022
Congratulations to Willie O'Ree, a true hockey pioneer, who will have his No. 22 retired tonight in Boston. #Willie22 pic.twitter.com/Rwfd7h9kFI
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) January 19, 2022
On this day in 1958, history was made.
Thank you, Willie O'Ree, for everything you have done and continue to do to grow the game we all love. pic.twitter.com/LGCza3SH16
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) January 18, 2022
A trailblazer in the game of hockey and someone who has continued to put in work to better the sport, congratulations Willie O'Ree on your number retirement. #Willie22 https://t.co/vLENyZ5u2n
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) January 19, 2022
Though he didn’t appear in the NHL after the 1960-61 season, O’Ree continued to play professional hockey until 1974, and then returned for one final season in 1978-79. The fact that he was able to become the first Black player to make his mark in the NHL is impressive enough, but his story is even more incredible, as he lost 95 percent of his vision in his right eye prior to his time spent with the Bruins.
The now-86-year-old has received many honours in recent years for his outstanding playing career, with the biggest coming in 2018 when he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Though his NHL career was by no means the longest, it was and will forever be one of the most memorable to hockey fans all around the world — thanks to both his bravery and love of the game.
A trailblazer, an ambassador, an icon.
Thank you, Willie.#NHLBruins | #Willie22 pic.twitter.com/CYbAwtqSM0
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) January 19, 2022
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