Bruins retire Willie O’Ree’s No. 22: ‘Thrilled and overwhelmed’ as NHL community, city of Boston light up for pioneer

Willie O’Ree made history in Boston once again on Tuesday night.

Before the puck fell between the Bruins and Hurricanes, Boston celebrated the first black player to play in an NHL game. O’Ree’s No. 22 was retired to the rafters of TD Garden exactly 64 years after he dressed in his first game with the Bruins to face the Canadiens.

Although O’Ree was unable to attend the ceremony in person due to rising COVID-19 cases in North America, she did attend virtually as her number hit the rafters. O’Ree’s number was also painted on the ice behind the net to celebrate his career achievements.

O’Ree first made history on January 18, 1958, becoming the first black player to play in the NHL. He went on to play for Boston until 1961 and recorded four goals with 14 points. He experienced harsh racial discrimination and adversity throughout his career and paved the way for future generations of players. O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018.

“It was a memorable night,” O’Ree said, via CBS17 in Boston. “I am excited and overwhelmed.”

NHL players including Wayne Simmonds and Ryan Reaves also shared their thoughts on the ceremony. Simmonds referred to O’Ree as his “idol,” while Reaves had some meaningful words to say during the Bruins tribute video. Former NHL player Shawn Thornton, who also wore number 22 during his Boston career, reflected on O’Ree’s impact on the sport.

The city of Boston also joined the celebration for the former hockey player. City Hall, Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium were lit up gold to celebrate the everlasting impact O’Ree has on hockey and how he set the “gold standard” for future generations.

O’Ree, who works as a diversity ambassador for the NHL, said: “I think when these boys and girls walk into the arena and look at it, they’ll see that you can do anything you want to do, if you set your heart and mind to it. “.

However, the Bruins couldn’t live up to the moment on the ice, falling 7-1 to the Hurricanes on Tuesday night.