On January 18, 1958, hockey player Willie O’Ree of the Boston Bruins takes to the ice for a game against the Montreal Canadiens, becoming the first black to play in the National Hockey League (NHL).
Born in 1935 in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, O’Ree was the son of a civil engineer, in one of Fredericton’s only two black families. He began skating at the age of three, and joined a nearby hockey league when he was only five. During five years playing with his older brother on teams in Fredericton, O’Ree became known as one of the best players in New Brunswick. After one season with the Quebec Frontenacs of the Quebec Junior Hockey League, he joined the Kitchener Canucks of the Ontario Hockey Association Junior “A” Hockey League, setting a career-high mark of 30 goals during the 1955-56 season. That year, a puck struck O’Ree in the right eye during a game, robbing him of 95 percent of the vision in that eye.
O’Ree managed to conceal the injury and continue his hockey career, joining the Quebec Aces of the prestigious Quebec Hockey League in 1956. During his second season with Quebec, the Boston Bruins of the NHL called up the 22-year-old O’Ree to replace an injured player. On January 18, 1958, the Bruins were playing the two-time Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens at Quebec’s Montreal Forum. O’Ree took to the ice as a forward with the Bruins’ third line, as the Bruins pulled off an upset 3-0 victory. He didn’t score, or record a penalty, and the historic event took place amid little fanfare.
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