Friday, November 3, 2017
Today Willie O’Ree made his return to the City of Springfield, where his 21-year career in professional hockey began. Mayor Domenic J. Sarno and Springfield Thunderbirds President Nate Costa were excited to host Mr. O’Ree in Room 220 of City Hall for a press conference in advance of “Willie O’Ree Night” at the Thunderbirds’ home game this evening against the Hartford Wolfpack.
“Mr. O’Ree is truly a trailblazer and a statesman,” said Mayor Sarno. “In essence, he was the ‘Jackie Robinson’ of professional hockey – God bless him.”
On October 12, 1957 Willie O’Ree made his first appearance with the AHL's Springfield Indians, becoming the first black professional hockey player. One year later, on January 18, 1958, O’Ree took the ice with the NHL's Boston Bruins, accomplishing the same historic feat, this time at the game's highest level. After his time with the Springfield Indians and Boston Bruins, O’Ree played for the Los Angeles Blades and San Diego Gulls of the Western Hockey League. Even after losing sight in his right eye after he was hit with a puck at a young age, O’Ree’s perseverance is reflected in his decades long career.
“The Springfield Thunderbirds are proud to welcome Willie O’Ree back to the city where he made American Hockey League history 60 years ago,” said Thunderbirds President Nathan Costa. “His determination, dedication, and service to hockey throughout his life has inspired countless young people to live out their dreams, both in hockey and outside the game. The Thunderbirds are privileged to continue proclaiming his longstanding belief that hockey is for everyone.
Since 1998, O’Ree has served as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, spreading the message that hockey is for everyone. At 82 years young, he travels across North America to share his story and experiences, helping underprivileged, marginalized and disadvantaged children build confidence, character and life skills. O'Ree encourages athletes to prioritize a commitment to their education while setting personal goals off the ice, and working hard to achieve those goals.
“Willie O’Ree Night” will be held at tomorrow’s Springfield Thunderbirds game to honor O’Ree on the 60th anniversary of his first AHL game. For more information, please visit: http://www.springfieldthunderbirds.com/.