Thursday, April 08, 2010

Fredericton's Hockey Pioneer joins Order of Canada (as posted by the Daily Gleaner on April 08/10)

Willie O'Ree, the Fredericton-born man who became the first black player in the NHL more than five decades ago, was invested into the Order of Canada on Wednesday at Rideau Hall.
Photo THE CANADIAN PRESS Former NHL hockey player Willie O'Ree receives the Order of Canada from Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

O’Ree, who’s from Fredericton, was the first black player in the NHL. O'Ree was one of 43 Canadians recognized by Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean.

He was honoured for his pioneering contributions to the development of professional hockey and for his dedication to promoting the sport to minority youth in Canada and the United States.

"I was overwhelmed," O'Ree told NHL.com afterwards. "I'm honoured. I feel really good that they thought enough of me to honour me with this award.''

He made NHL history Jan. 18, 1958, when he took to the ice at the Montreal Forum while playing for the Boston Bruins.

When he was told in December 2008 that he would get the Order of Canada, O'Ree who lives near San Diego, Calif., told The Daily Gleaner he was lost for words. "I never thought anything like this would happen to me."

In recent years, O'Ree has made a career out of urging kids to dare to defy the odds. He serves as director of youth development for the NHL's diversity program, which has given children throughout North America access to the sport for more than a decade.

When he played his first NHL game in 1958, O'Ree defied the odds in more ways than one. He was also blind in one eye.

Longtime friend and Fredericton resident Josie Mazzuca said she followed the news Wednesday with keen interest to see how the man who still calls Fredericton home was honoured. "I think it's wonderful,'' she said. "I'm just sorry it was so far away and that we couldn't all be there. We're very pleased for him. He's done wonderfully."

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