The Boston Bruins will retire the No. 22 that belonged to Willie O'Ree, the man who broke the NHL's color barrier, the team announced on Tuesday. The ceremony will be held on Feb. 18 prior to the Bruins' game against the New Jersey Devils.
O'Ree's historic moment happened on Jan. 18, 1958, when he became the first black player to compete in an NHL game by suiting up for Boston against the Montreal Canadiens.
"It was the greatest thrill of my life, I believe. I will always remember this day," he said after the game.
Now the 12th Bruins player to have his jersey number retired, O'Ree played professional hockey until 1979, with stints in Boston, the minor leagues and the Western Hockey League. He wore No. 18 and No. 25 for a few of his games with the Bruins, but he wore No. 22 for 24 games, which is how that number got chosen.
O'Ree joins Lionel Hitchman (#3, 1934), Aubrey V. Clapper (#5, 1947), Edward W. Shore (#2, 1949), Milton C. Schmidt (#15, 1957), Robert G. Orr (#4, 1979), John P. Bucyk (#9, 1980), Philip A. Esposito (#7, 1987), Raymond J. Bourque (#77, 2001), Terence J. O'Reilly (#24, 2002), Cameron M. Neely (#8, 2004) and Richard D. Middleton (#16, 2018) in the rafters as yet another Bruins great. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018 as part of the "Builder" category. Those inducted into that part of the hall are categorized by "coaching, managerial or executive ability, or ability in another significant off-ice role, sportsmanship, character and contributions to his or her organization or organizations and to the game of hockey in general."
"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."