FREDERICTON, New Brunswick -- When Willie O'Ree started
playing hockey as a kid, he never thought he would become the first
black player in the NHL.
Even when he first skated onto the ice of the Montreal Forum
with the Boston Bruins almost 50 years ago, it didn't seem like a
But his hometown thinks it's an accomplishment worth honoring,
and this week the city of Fredericton voted unanimously to name a
new hockey arena on the city's north side after O'Ree, the Jackie
Robinson of hockey.
"It's a nice feeling," O'Ree said Wednesday. "My close
friends in Fredericton never forgot from Day 1 when I left there,
the things that I accomplished playing hockey. I'm deeply
The new arena will be formally named in January, as close as
possible to the 50th anniversary of O'Ree's NHL debut on Jan. 18,
O'Ree, 71, is director of the NHL's diversity program, traveling
across Canada and the United States to promote hockey and the
involvement of children from all cultural backgrounds.
O'Ree said he's pleased with the cultural diversity now evident
in the NHL, especially the growing interest in the game in the
A left winger, O'Ree played two games for the Bruins in 1958 and
43 more in 1960-61.
He was best known for his exceptional speed and his checking
ability. O'Ree spent most of his long professional career in the
old Western League with the Los Angeles Blades and the San Diego