Friday, January 18, 2008

The Morning Skate Remembers: Willie O'Ree

The Habs won last night (BIG TITS, WOOO!). Panger's got your review later today. Many other games were played. But TMS would be remiss if he didn't take this time to recognize Willie O'Ree and his outstanding accomplishment 50 years ago today, when he became the first black player to suit up in an NHL uniform, against the Habs.

It's been said many times that O'Ree was "the Jackie Robinson of hockey." Fair enough. But unlike the flood of black baseball players who followed in Robinson's footsteps, the number of black players in the NHL has always been, well, pathetic at best. After O'Ree, no black player played in the NHL until 1974. Curently there are only 13 black players in the NHL, and in all of the league's history there haven't been many more. Only Grant Fuhr has made the Hall of Fame. To me, all of that makes O'Ree's accomplishment all the more impressive. Oh yeah, throw in he was leaglly blind in one eye.

O'Ree grew up in New Brunswick where he says he really didn't experience racism. He has also said that there was really no racism in Toronto and Montreal compared to what he dealt with in the States (his Bruins teammates excepted). I'd like to chalk this up to Canadians being more tolerant than Americans, and that's probably true. But let's not forget we have problems here, too. And they are in hockey, to this day. Don Cherry calling Euros and French Canadians soft? Sean Avery?

O'Ree's career NHL totals are barely worth mentioning. 45 games played, 4 G, 10 A. But that really doesn't matter. On this day 50 years ago, he made a difference. And Grant Fuhr, Jerome Iginla et al have all recognized that. We remember our history.

O'Ree at Legends of Hockey
50 years later


Habsfan10 said...

Not only the first black player in the NHL but he did it in Boston. How tough would it have been? The Bruins had a black player before the Red Sox, and baseball had been integrated for 12 years already when O'Ree made his debut.

Good on you, Willie.

HabsFan29 said...

You know it's funny, 10, I really wanted to cover the Boston angle when writing the piece. But all the accounts I read were woefully silent on his treatment from Boston fans, so I didn't want to write what I couldn't back up. But I agree with you, just knowing Boston's history it must have tough.

Loser Domi said...

Huzzah, Willie! Huzzah!