Thunderbirds to honor O’Ree on Nov. 3

Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images

To commemorate the 60th anniversary of his breaking the color barrier in both the AHL and the NHL, the Springfield Thunderbirds will be honoring hockey pioneer Willie O’Ree on Nov. 3.

O’Ree will appear at “Hockey is For Everyone” Night presented by MGM Springfield, when the Thunderbirds host the Hartford Wolf Pack at 7:05 p.m. ET.

On Oct. 12, 1957, O’Ree debuted with the Springfield Indians in a game against the Buffalo Bisons, becoming the first black player to skate in the American Hockey League.

Three months later, on Jan. 18, 1958, he took the ice for the Boston Bruins, accomplishing the same historic feat on the game’s highest stage.

The Thunderbirds will honor O’Ree to commemorate the 60th anniversary of his AHL debut in Springfield. O’Ree will be inducted into the Springfield Hockey Hall of Fame, and the night will serve as a celebration of hockey’s diversity — namely that hockey is for everyone. O’Ree will also be available for a meet-and-greet with Thunderbirds fans before the game, and will also be entrenched in the community during the day, including a visit to the Springfield Renaissance School.

“Willie O’Ree made history in our city 60 years ago and has been a trailblazer for the sport of hockey,” said Thunderbirds President Nathan Costa. “We are proud to host him and rightfully induct him into the Springfield Hockey Hall of Fame for what he has done in service to hockey, both on and off the ice.”

Since his playing career ended, O’Ree has been a constant presence in the hockey community. Since 1998, O’Ree has served as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, spreading the message that hockey is for everyone. Working directly with non-profit grassroots hockey programs supported by the NHL, he travels across North America to share his story and experiences, helping underprivileged, marginalized and disadvantaged children build confidence, character and life skills. O’Ree encourages athletes to prioritize a commitment to their education while setting personal goals off the ice, and working hard to achieve those goals.

O’Ree’s motto reflects his mission with the children: “If you think you can, you can; if you think you can’t… you’re right. You never fail until you stop trying.”