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National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman announced on Monday afternoon that they will honour the league's first black player, Willie O'Ree, starting this weekend until the end of February.

All 31 teams will wear a sticker on their helmets starting Saturday, through until the end of Black History Month (February). The sticker features Willie wearing his famous fedora, with the words "Celebrating Equality".

Monday January 18th will mark the 63rd anniversary of Willie breaking the colour barrier in the NHL, and it also happens to be Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

"When I reminisce back, I say, 'Oh my goodness, 1958. Time flies,'" O'Ree said. "I'm thrilled, overwhelmed about the stickers."

Current Maple Leaf Wayne Simmonds thinks it's a great idea to honour Willie, and celebrate what he's done for black players who have come after him.

"To honor Willie, putting on that decal is going to be great for everybody," Simmonds said. "Obviously for Black players like myself, he started the movement for us to even be considered to play in the NHL, and I think that goes for every other player of color in this league. Without Willie, none of this would be possible."

Additionally, the Boston Bruins have announced that they will be retiring Willie's #22 in a virtual pre-game ceremony on Thursday, February 18th against the New Jersey Devils. O'Ree will be the twelfth Boston Bruin to have their number retired.

"On behalf of the Boston Bruins organization I would like to congratulate Willie O'Ree as well as his wife, Deljeet, and his daughter, Chandra, on having his number retired in the TD Garden rafters," said Boston Bruins President Cam Neely. "Willie's contributions to the game of hockey transcend on-ice accomplishments and have opened countless doors for players who have come after him. He is without question deserving of this honor."

"Throughout the history of the National Hockey League, there have been very few individuals that have had such a profound impact on the league and its culture than Willie O'Ree," said Boston Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs. "After breaking the color barrier as a Boston Bruin in 1958 and eventually retiring from professional hockey in 1979, Willie became the ultimate ambassador for improving diversity and inclusion within the game of hockey. The entire hockey world is forever indebted to Willie for all that he has done, and continues to do, for the sport. We are incredibly proud to retire Willie's number and cement his legacy as one of Boston's greatest athletes."

O'Ree, 85, played in 45 games for the Bruins during the 1957-58 and 1960-61 seasons. He had 14 points (4 G, 10 A), and 26 penalty minutes.

He spent most of his career in minor leagues, including 13 seasons in the Western Hockey League, a defunct league that ran from 1952 to 1974. He played for the Los Angeles Blades and San Diego Gulls. In 785 career games, he had 639 points (311 G, 328 A), and 669 penalty minutes.

For his contributions to the game, O'Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018.

Source: NHL (Helmet Decal)

Source: Boston Bruins (Jersey Retirement)
JANUARY 12, 2021  (10H29)