Willie OR'ee

by Jack Peverini from Toronto, Ontario in Canada

Willie by Jack Peverini   

Did you know that only 3% of National Hockey League players (NHL) players are black!? You can learn about a man who joined the NHL  when he was the only black player! If you read this essay, you will learn about Willie O’Ree before he played in the NHL, when he was in the NHL, and after he played in the NHL.

Before the NHL

William Elond O’Ree was born on October 15, 1935, in Fredericton, New Brunswick. He was the youngest of 13 siblings. He grew up liking hockey at an early age and started playing organized hockey when he was five. 

O’Ree kept up with the sport, became very good, and eventually started playing for minor league hockey teams.

In 1955 O'Ree was playing for the Kitchener Canucks of the Ontario Hockey Association. O'Ree lost 95 percent of his sight in his right eye after he was hit by a puck that also broke his nose and cheekbone. The doctor said he wouldn’t be able to play hockey again but this didn’t stop him. He didn’t tell anyone. If he had his career would have been over. 

Two years later he was playing in the QHL (Quebec Hockey League) for the Quebec Aces when he got called up to the Boston Bruins to replace Leo Labine who was sick and couldn’t play. 

This call-up would make him the first black player in the NHL!

 In the NHL 

In the NHL Willie played left wing. When Willie O’Ree got into the NHL he only played two games in his first NHL season. In his second year, he played with center Don McKenney and right-wing Jerry Toppazzini as his linemates and played 43 games.

In that second year when he played the Chicago Blackhawks, Eric Nesterenko butt-ended O'Ree knocking out his two front teeth and also breaking his nose just because he was black. Willie responded by hitting him over the head with his stick. Then everything got worse. Fans were responding by yelling racist names and the other Blackhawks players yelled death threats! He said he was “lucky to get out of the arena alive".

Later that season he got traded to the Montreal Canadiens. But he never played for the team. O’Ree said that the Canadiens were run by racists because he didn’t get invited to try out for the team. Instead, he got put on a minor league team in Hull, Quebec.

After a while in the minors, he retired. Willie scored 4 goals and 10 assists in his NHL career.        

After the NHL 

Once Willie retired in 1979 in 1988 he became the NHL's diversity ambassador as the NHL diversity ambassador he went around North America going to schools and hockey clubs and teaching them about diversity and telling stories about his career.

And that is what Willie O’Ree contributed to Canada the NHL and hockey itself







Page created on 4/9/2024 3:07:41 PM

Last edited 4/10/2024 10:57:22 AM

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