Notable Leader

Willie O’Ree
New Brunswick

Willie O’Ree

On January 18, 1958, Willie O’Ree stepped on the ice at the Montreal Forum to play his first game in the NHL for the Boston Bruins — and made history.

Like any Canadian kid, as a young boy Willie played hockey with his friends. And out there on the ice, he probably pretended to be his favourite player, deking around the defence taking shots, scoring goals. Actually playing in the NHL was something most of these kids only dreamed about. For O’Ree that dream came true.

In fact, he became the first black player in the NHL. Known for his speed and checking abilities, his career was cut short by an injury.

Today, Willie O’Ree is the director of the NHL’s diversity program. He travels across Canada and the United States promoting and teaching the game of hockey to children from all cultural backgrounds.

In January 2008, fifty years after his NHL debut, Willie O’Ree’s home town of Fredericton, New Brunswick, named its new hockey arena Willie O’Ree Place, in honour of his achievements.