Willie O’Ree celebrated his 85th birthday on Thursday, and though Anson Carter couldn’t tip his cap to the first Black player in NHL history in person, he and other players honored him in a special video.
Carter donned a virtual fedora as one of the many current and former NHL players to send happy birthday wishes to Willie O’Ree, who made history when he made his NHL debut with the Boston Bruins on Jan. 18, 1958.
Carter shared a moment when he pulled out a memorable photo that hangs in his personal office from when he met O’Ree as a member of the Bruins.
He then put on a virtual fedora to pay homage to O’Ree, who often wears that style of hat at public appearances as NHL diversity ambassador.
“Every time you see Willie O’Ree out in public he always looks classy and crisp,” said Carter, the former player and current NBC hockey analyst. “Jacket on; shirt looking fresh; pocket square. So I thought what better way to honor my good friend then to throw on my virtual fedora and say, ‘Happy birthday Willie.’ “
Fellow former NHL players Jarome Iginla, Jamal Mayers, Anthony Stewart, Georges Laraque, Kevin Weekes and Joel Ward, pro women’s players Kelsey Koelzer and Blake Bolden and former women’s pro Angela James sent their gratitude to O’Ree and compared him to Jackie Robinson, who broke the Major League Baseball color barrier in 1947.
“Thanks for everything you’ve done for us, Willie,” Laraque said. “You’re one of the big reasons why we had long careers in the NHL because you broke the barrier for us. You are a Jackie Robinson for us.”
Bruins captain Zdeno Chara and center Patrice Bergeron, New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban, Tampa Bay Lightning forward Mathieu Joseph and unrestricted free agent J.T. Brown were the current NHL players to send well wishes and appreciation for O’Ree’s service.
“Words can’t describe what you have meant to my career and so many other players and people in the game of hockey,” Subban said. “Thank you for everything you’ve done, and I hope when I’m 85 I look as good as you.”