Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports

Willie O'Ree knows there's still work to be done diversifying hockey

Matt Kalman
November 02, 2018 - 10:38 am

For more than 20 years Willie O’Ree has been the NHL’s diversity ambassador for its Hockey Is For Everyone initiative, and the program has been successful in increasing diversity at all levels of the sport, including the NHL.

But the 83-year-old O’Ree, who’ll be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Nov. 12 as a builder in recognition of his work with HIFE, knows the job of diversifying hockey isn’t done. And there are some things he’d like to see happen in the near future.

“I’d like to see more black referees,” O’Ree told after the Willie O’Ree Community Rink was officially opened in Allston on Thursday. “[More black people] in management also.

“Hopefully one day there’ll be an all-black line playing in the NHL. So there’s goals to be made and opportunities to be made, you just have to set your mind to it and say that you can make a difference.”

If anyone can teach you about setting your mind to something and making a difference, it’s O’Ree. Despite being blind in one eye, O’Ree broke hockey’s color barrier in 1958 with the Bruins. He played in 45 NHL games.

“You know I had set two goals for myself when I was 14: to play professional hockey and to hopefully one day play in the NHL. So I accomplished those but I never dreamed that I’d be going into the Hall,” O’Ree said.

He waited a while for the HHOF to recognize him, but over the summer he finally received the phone call from HHOF chairman Lanny McDonald he’d been waiting for.

“He said ‘I’ve got some news for you ... how you feeling?’ I said, ‘well I’ll be feeling a lot better if the news is good,’” O’Ree recalled. “But he said ‘yeah you’re going to be inducted’ and at that time I was at a loss for words.”


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