A stamp for Willie O’Ree, NHL’s first Black player
By Molly Goad
The National Hockey League’s first Black player is honored on a new stamp from Canada Post.
The Willie O’Ree commemorative stamp issued Oct. 30 represents the history made when O’Ree played his first NHL game in 1958. Since then, he has dedicated his life to promoting diversity and inclusion in the sport.
“It’s hard to believe I have my own stamp. I couldn’t imagine when I first started playing that any of these things were possible. I just wanted to be the best hockey player I could be,” O’Ree wrote in a Canada Post Magazine blog article. “Look at where that took me.”
When O’Ree took the ice on Saturday, Jan. 18, 1958, as a Boston Bruin ready to take on the Montreal Canadiens, he was so captivated by reaching the big leagues and playing amongst his heroes in front of family and friends, that he didn’t fully grasp what he had achieved.
“It wasn’t until the following day, when I opened up the newspaper and read that I had become the first Black player to play in the NHL, that the weight of the moment hit me. ‘Oh my,’ I thought, ‘this is something else,’ ” O’Ree wrote.
O’Ree played 45 games for the Bruins: two during the 1958 season and 43 during the 1960-61 season. He played professionally for more than two decades in various leagues including the Western Hockey League (WHL).
But the athlete said his most rewarding work came after he hung up the skates, when he began encouraging young people to chase their dreams no matter what barriers they face.
“The work I do with young people is one of the most valuable experiences I’ve had. I receive countless letters — not just from athletes — thanking me for inspiring them to overcome obstacles and believe in themselves,” he said.
In 2018, O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame for his work on and off the ice, and the NHL has since created the Willie O’Ree Community Hero award in his honor.
The design of the Willie O’Ree stamp was unveiled at an event Oct. 28 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, as part of the 2023 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic.
The stamp features a recent photo taken by Philip Cheung of O’Ree wearing his signature fedora cap. The inset image is an action shot from 1960, and the black and yellow colors used are a nod to the Boston Bruins.
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