Willie O’Ree’s number retirement ceremony has been rescheduled by the Boston Bruins to next year to allow him to attend the event and be honored by fans at TD Garden.
The Bruins, in consultation with the NHL, agreed to move the ceremony from Feb. 18, 2021, to Jan. 18, 2022, which will be the 64th anniversary of O’Ree becoming the first Black player in the NHL.
O’Ree, the NHL diversity ambassador, made his NHL debut against the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 18, 1958.
Boston announced Jan. 12 it would retire O’Ree’s No. 22 during a ceremony Feb. 18 prior to playing the New Jersey Devils. But the event likely would have been held without fans with none allowed at TD Garden due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Bruins and NHL officials said moving the ceremony will allow for a more elaborate event with O’Ree and fans in attendance.
“We hope and expect the change will enable us all to commemorate this moment in a way that matches the magnitude of Willie’s impact — in front of a TD Garden crowd packed with passionate Bruins fans, who can express their admiration and appreciation for Willie and create the meaningful moment he has earned throughout his incredible career,” the NHL said in a statement.
O’Ree will be the 12th player to have his number retired by the Bruins, joining Lionel Hitchman (No. 53, 1934), Dit Clapper (No. 5, 1947), Eddie Shore (No. 2, 1949), Milt Schmidt (No. 15, 1957), Bobby Orr (No. 4, 1979), Johnny Bucyk (No. 9, 1980), Phil Esposito (No. 7, 1987), Ray Bourque (No. 77, 2001), Terry O’Reilly (No. 24, 2002), Cam Neely (No. 8, 2004) and Rick Middleton (No. 16, 2018).
Besides O’Ree, 31 other Bruins have worn No. 22, including Brad Park, Rick Tocchet, Brian Leetch, Butch Goring, Jozef Stumpel and Shawn Thornton.
Forward Peter Cehlarik wore No. 22 for three games last season. Forward Craig Smith, who signed with Boston as a free agent Oct. 10, was going to wear No. 22 this season but switched to No. 12.
O’Ree played 45 NHL games during two seasons with the Bruins (1957-58, 1960-61) despite being blind in his right eye, the result of an injury sustained in junior hockey. He scored 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) during his NHL career.
He had a lengthy and prolific minor league career, mostly in the former Western Hockey League.
O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in November 2018 for his off-ice accomplishments that helped create a new generation of players and fans as the NHL diversity ambassador.
He helped establish 39 grassroots hockey programs in North America as part of the Hockey Is For Everyone initiative and has inspired more than 120,000 boys and girls to play the sport.