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Willie O Ree Speaker Profile

Former Winger for the Boston Bruins

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Willie O Ree Biography

Willie O'Ree was born October 15, 1935, Fredericton, New Brunswick and is a Canadian former professional ice hockey player, known best for being the first black player in the National Hockey League. O'Ree played as a winger for the Boston Bruins. O'Ree is referred to as the Jackie Robinson of ice hockey due to breaking the colour barrier in the sport, and has stated publicly that he had met Jackie Robinson twice in his own younger years. He is frequently but erroneously referred to as the first African American player; while he is black, he is Canadian-born and remains a Canadian national.

Midway through his second minor-league season with the Quebec Aces, O'Ree was called up to the Boston Bruins of the NHL to replace an injured player. O'Ree was 95% blind in his right eye due to being hit there by an errant puck two years earlier, which normally would have precluded him from playing in the NHL. However, O'Ree managed to keep it secret, and made his NHL debut with the Bruins on January 18, 1958, against the Montreal Canadiens, becoming the first black player in league history, appearing in two games that year, and came back in 1961 to play 43 games, playing with smooth Boston centre Don McKenney and winger Jerry Toppazzini. He scored four goals and 10 assists in his NHL career, all in 1961.

O'Ree noted that racist remarks were much worse in the U.S. cities than in Toronto and Montreal, the two Canadian cities hosting NHL teams at the time, and that Fans would yell, 'Go back to the South' and 'How come you're not picking cotton?' Things like that. It didn't bother me. I just wanted to be a hockey player, and if they couldn't accept that fact, that was their problem, not mine.

In the minor leagues, O'Ree won two scoring titles in the Western Hockey League (WHL) between 1961 and 1974, scoring thirty or more goals four times, with a high of 38 in 1964-65 and 1968-69. Most of O'Ree's playing time was with the WHL's Los Angeles Blades and San Diego Gulls. The latter team retired his number, now hanging from the rafters at the San Diego Sports Arena. O'Ree continued to play in the minors until the age of 43.


After O'Ree's retirement, there was no other black player in the NHL until fellow Canadian Mike Marson was drafted by the Washington Capitals in 1974. There are 17 black players in the NHL as of the mid-2000s, the most prominent including Canadian Jarome Iginla (who is currently on the Calgary Flames) and U.S. native Mike Grier (who is currently on the Buffalo Sabres). Art Dorrington was the first black player to sign an NHL contract, in 1950 with the New York Rangers organization, but Dorrington never played beyond the minor league level. NHL players are now required to enroll in a diversity training seminar before each season, and racially based verbal abuse is punished through suspensions and fines.


O'Ree was inducted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 1984. In 1998, O'Ree was working at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, California when the National Hockey League approached him to be the director of youth development for its diversity task force. The NHL/USA Hockey Diversity Task Force is a non-profit program for minority youth that encourages them to learn and play hockey. As of the mid-2000s, O'Ree lives in Berkeley, California.


Willie O Ree Booking and Hiring Information

Popular NHL players such as a Willie O Ree have taken the game to new levels. The hockey agents at AthletePromotions can assist with Willie O Ree speaking engagements or appearances from the hockeys best. We have years of experience in booking legends on the ice for keynote speeches and autograph signings. Hiring a hockey speaker like Willie O Ree is not a hard process. Our agents can provide availability, fees and all costs associated in bringing out a successful hockey star to your next big event. We can find Willie O Rees agent to make this event the best it can be.A Willie O Ree appearance will add excitement to your upcoming event.Most likely, hockey fans and corporations can find Willie O Ree's official website, charity involvement, Twitter account, representation, publicist and management info at www.Willie O Ree.com.

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