When he was 14 years old, Willie O’Ree set two goals for himself — play pro hockey and one day earn a spot in the NHL.
At no point — during those days spent dreaming of seemingly importable goals while growing up in Fredericton, New Brunswick — did he ever think he’d ever get his name called for the Hockey Hall of Fame.
And even after leaving an indelible impact on the game — becoming the first black player to break the color barrier in the NHL — it took O’Ree over 60 years since making his debut with the Bruins to finally get that call.
“When I get the initial call from the Hall, I was in my hometown in San Diego and Lanny McDonald and John Davidson called me and I spoke with Lanny on the phone,” O’Ree recalled on Thursday. “I said, ‘Lanny, what's going on?’ He said, ‘Man, I've got some news for ya.’ He said, ‘How you feeling?’
“And I said, 'Well, I'll be feeling a lot better if the news is good.’ But he said, ‘Yeah, you're going to be inducted.’ At that time, I was at a loss for words."
Now 83 years old, O’Ree is set to be inducted as part of a stacked Hall of Fame class alongside former greats such as Martin Brodeur and Martin St. Louis on Nov. 12 up in Toronto — with the former Bruin set to be recognized for his trailblazing efforts within the sport and his ongoing mission to make hockey accessible for all.
“It's starting to register with me,” O’Ree said Thursday. “You know, a lot of people told me years ago that I should have been in the Hall. But back then, it just went in one ear and out the other. I only played 45 games in the NHL with the Bruins. ... But what I'm doing now is the reason that I'm getting into the Hall as a Builder."
While O’Ree only spent two seasons up in the NHL with Boston, his impact is still felt today.