Friday, 13 January 2012 00:00
The Town of Oyster Bay will host National Hockey League (NHL) pioneer Willie O’Ree on the evening of Wednesday, Jan. 18, at the state-of-the-art Town of Oyster Bay Ice Skating Center in Bethpage, said Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto. O’Ree was known for his speed and checking abilities throughout his career and was a threat every time he touched the ice. His accomplishments on the ice, however, tell only part of his proud history. He also made an immeasurable social impact as the first black player to compete in a National Hockey League game.
“Willie O’Ree is often referred to as the “Jackie Robinson of ice hockey” due to the similarities of both as trailblazers in their respective sports.” Supervisor Venditto said. “The Town of Oyster Bay is fortunate to have Mr. O’Ree as a special guest at the rink. His historical significance in the sports world can’t be understated. He is an icon to the game of hockey.”
Mr. O’Ree’s much anticipated visit to the Town of Oyster Bay will be a part of an exciting evening at the rink. The event will include a unique instructional hockey clinic for mini-mites and mites enrolled in the Town of Oyster Bay hockey program from 7:15 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. The Town of Oyster Bay will then proclaim Jan. 18 as “Willie O’Ree Day,” which marks the anniversary of the date he made his debut for the Boston Bruins. The proclamation will be presented at a special ceremony open to the public at 8:15 p.m. Mr. O’Ree will then have the honor of dropping the ceremonial first puck at a high school hockey contest between rivals Bethpage High School and Cold Spring Harbor High School beginning at 8:45 p.m. He will autograph pucks and photos for all in attendance.
The Supervisor went on to say that on January 18, 1958, playing for the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens, O’Ree became the first black person to play in the NHL — an extraordinary event that paved the way for future players of diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds. O’Ree played 45 games with the Bruins from 1958-61. His long professional career spanned 21 seasons, mostly in the Western Hockey League (WHL) with the Los Angeles Blades and the San Diego Gulls.
Mr. O’Ree is currently the National Hockey League’s Director of Youth Development and hockey ambassador for the Hockey is for Everyone initiative, a post he has held since January 1998. As Director of Youth Development, Mr. O’Ree has helped the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone initiative expose more than 45,000 boys and girls of diverse backgrounds to unique hockey experiences. Over the past decade, Mr. O’Ree has traveled thousands of miles across North America helping to establish 30 local grassroots hockey programs, all geared toward serving economically disadvantaged youth. While advocating strongly that “Hockey is for Everyone,” Mr. O’Ree stresses the importance of essential life skills, education, and the core values of hockey, which are commitment, perseverance, and teamwork.
A native of Canada, Mr. O’Ree is the recipient of numerous awards and honors. In addition to being inducted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 1984, he received the Lester Patrick Award for outstanding service to hockey in the United States in 2003. In 2007, Mr. O’Ree became the inaugural recipient of the Bill Walsh Champion of Change Award, which recognizes an individual whose tenaciousness of purpose paved a path of opportunity to everyone. In January 2008, the Fredericton, New Brunswick, City Council named its new hockey arena after Mr. O’Ree in honor of his accomplishments. In April 2010, Mr. O’Ree received the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest civilian honor. He is the first black hockey player ever to receive the prestigious award. In June 2011, Mr. O’Ree received the Sports Museum’s Hockey Legacy Award in recognition of his trailblazing NHL career and his many contributions to the hockey community. Mr. O’Ree resides in San Diego, California, with his wife Deljeet and daughter Chandra.
“We look forward, with great anticipation, to seeing Mr. O’Ree’s at the Town of Oyster Bay Ice Skating Center,” Supervisor Venditto said. “We share the same goal in providing our youth with an opportunity to participate in hockey and look forward to working with him to promote this great sport.”
“We are proud to have Willie share his experiences along with the core values of the ‘Hockey Is For Everyone’ initiative with the boys and girls of Town of Oyster Bay Ice Skating Center on the 54th anniversary of such a career milestone,” said Kenneth Martin, Jr., the NHL’s Vice President of Community Affairs.