BOSTON – More than 60 years after he broke the NHL's color barrier, Willie O’Ree will soon add another milestone to his career.
The Boston Bruins announced Tuesday that O'Ree will have his No. 22 jersey retired prior to the team's Feb. 18 game against the New Jersey Devils. It will make O’Ree the 12th player in team history to have a sweater hung in TD Garden.
The 85-year-old O’Ree said he was in his backyard Monday when he got the call from Bruins president Cam Neely informing him about the honor.
“I was at a loss for words there for a few seconds,” O'Ree said. “I’m overwhelmed and thrilled about having my Bruins jersey hung up in the rafters.”
He became the league’s first Black player when he suited up for Boston on Jan. 18, 1958, against the Montreal Canadiens. O’Ree, who was legally blind in one eye, played two seasons for the Bruins, retiring from professional hockey in 1979.
He also donned Nos. 18 and 25 during his time with the Bruins but wore No. 22 in the bulk of his games with the club.
“I was obsessed with playing the sport,” O'Ree said. “Just that burning desire. Even when I lost my eye my second year of juniors, they said, ‘Well, you should quit.’ I said, well, I can still see. I just kept on playing.”
Neely said there is no question O'Ree is deserving of having his jersey enshrined next to team greats like Bobby Orr and Ray Bourque.