The San Diego Gulls announced today that the American Hockey League club will honor Willie O’Ree prior to and during its game on Oct. 16 vs. Bakersfield (7:05 p.m. PT), “Willie O’Ree Night,” at Valley View Casino Center.
The ceremony will include the raising of O’Ree’s #20 jersey to the rafters at Valley View Casino Center. Full details will be made available at a later date.
O’Ree, who broke the NHL’s color barrier with the Boston Bruins on Jan. 18, 1958, vs. the Montreal Canadiens, paved the way for subsequent players of diverse ethnic backgrounds. In addition to 45 games with the Boston Bruins from 1958-61, O’Ree spent a number of seasons in the Western Hockey League, including seven seasons with the San Diego Gulls from 1967-74 and his final season of professional hockey with the San Diego Hawks (PHL) in 1978-79. O’Ree also played professionally in the AHL with the Springfield Indians (1957-58) and New Haven Nighthawks (1972-73). All 21 seasons in which O’Ree played professionally, he did so blind in one eye.
“Willie is a trailblazer and international sports icon,” said Gulls President of Business Operations Ari Segal. “While he courageously broke the NHL’s color barrier in 1958, he’s worked tirelessly throughout his life to promote diversity in our sport, and increase access to hockey for people of all races, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds. We feel fortunate to have the opportunity to honor him and celebrate his life and historic career on the day after his 80th birthday.”
O’Ree joined the National Hockey League office in January of 1998, acting as the NHL’s Director of Youth Development and an ambassador for NHL Diversity, a position he still holds today. In this role, emphasizing commitment, perseverance and teamwork as core values, O’Ree has aided in introducing the sport of hockey to more than 40,000 boys and girls of diverse backgrounds, and has established nearly 40 local grassroots hockey programs throughout North America.
“I am thrilled to celebrate my 80th birthday with the new San Diego Gulls and hockey fans in San Diego,” said Willie O’Ree. “I’m proud and thankful that the club has chosen to honor me during its inaugural AHL season. This organization has proven time and again its commitment to becoming deeply ingrained in this community, including and beyond the 34 home game dates.”
Recognized for his excellence on and off the ice, O’Ree has been inducted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame (1984) and the Breitbard Hall of Fame in the San Diego Hall of Champions (2008). The 2003 Lester Patrick Award winner for outstanding service to hockey in the United States and the inaugural recipient of the Bill Walsh Champion of Change award, O’Ree received the Order of New Brunswick, the highest honor of the Province of New Brunswick, in 2005.