O'Ree's hometown to rename ice rink in his honor

Updated: September 6, 2007, 8:58 AM ET
Associated Press

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 big deal.

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 honored."

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, 1958.

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 southern states.

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 Gulls.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press