I am a huge Bruins fan and there are many names that resonate with fans in Boston: Orr, Borque, Neely, Chara. But the one that should resonate with everyone across the league is O’Ree. Willie is the Jackie Robinson of the NHL, the first black player to take to the ice in a professional game. I truly enjoyed his recounting of his life not just in hockey and his pursuit of the NHL but also a brush with the MLB and how race impacted his life.
I was amazed by the story of his ancestors who had been slaves that escaped to Canada, a wise choice as Willie grew up in a relatively safe environment and didn’t feel truly discriminated against until his brush with the MLB which brought him to Atlanta. The racism he faced there just after the horror of what had happened to Emmett Till pressed him back to Canada for his own safety. But it also pressed him towards his dreams of a career in hockey. He detailed his journey from pond hockey through the minor leagues and all the way to the NHL all while hiding the fact that he had gone blind in one eye! I appreciated that he acknowledged all of the other black players before him that just didn’t get the opportunity due to their race and the circumstances to survive in the pro leagues.
The narrative well balanced the exciting hockey stories with his experiences with racism and social justice. His stories about the greats who he played against and meeting Jackie Robinson once as a fan and once as a peer were really entertaining. I am so grateful that these stories are getting published so that we can share in the journeys that weren’t appropriately covered in their time. Well done, Mr O’Ree! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Are you a hockey fan? Who’s your team? 🐻