The Boston Bruins have agreed to wait on honouring one of the most important figures in hockey history.
Instead of raising his No. 22 to the rafters next week, the Bruins have obliged the NHL's request to honour Hockey Hall of Fame trailblazer Willie O'Ree, who became the first Black man to compete in an NHL game as a member of the Bruins back in 1958, in a ceremony at TD Garden Arena on Jan. 22, 2022.
The ceremony will now take place on the 64th anniversary of O'Ree's debut, but more importantly will allow the NHL and Bruins to celebrate the historic occasion with fans, alumni, and other special guests — assuming that's possible by then.
The NHL wrote in an official release:
"We hope and expect the change will enable us all to commemorate this moment in a way that matches the magnitude of Willie's impact — in front of a TD Garden crowd packed with passionate Bruins fans who can express their admiration and appreciation for Willie and create the meaningful moment he has earned throughout his incredible career."
In January, Boston announced that it would retire O'Ree's number as part of its Black History Month celebrations. The ceremony would present O'Ree with the 12th retired number in franchise history, and allow him to join legends of the franchise such as Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Ray Bourque, and Cam Neely as permanent enshrinements.
O'Ree appeared in 45 games for the Bruins, scoring four goals and 14 points. He appeared in more than 1,000 professional hockey games in part of three decades over his career, doing so despite suffering a serious eye injury that left him partially blind early in his career.
He was honoured by the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018 for his work growing the game, and a resume that includes helping establish numerous grassroots programs to improve hockey's accessbility.
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