Nearly 11 years after Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier, Willie O’Ree was called up from the Québec Aces minor professional hockey team and suited up for the Boston Bruins at Montréal Forum in what became a, 3-0, shutout for the Bruins against the Montréal Canadiens on Jan. 18, 1958.
The next day, O’Ree read in the paper that he had been the first Black player in National Hockey League history.
He played in the following game with Boston, a 6-2, loss to Montréal in his Boston Garden debut before he was sent back to the minors for the remainder of the 1957-58 season.
In a, 3-2, win against the Canadiens on Jan. 1, 1961, at Boston Garden, O’Ree scored his first career NHL goal– the eventual game-winner at 10:07 of the third period.
In total, O’Ree amassed 14 points (four goals, ten assists) in 45 career NHL games with the Bruins from 1958-61– paving the way for many Black players since then while being subjected to the brunt of racial epithets from fans, players and coaches alike.
In some tragic sense, not much has changed within the culture of the sport and society at large.
No one is a product of their time. Ignorance, inequality and racism are always ignorance, inequality and racism.
O’Ree’s hero, Herb Carnegie, was never given a proper chance at making the NHL.
Carnegie received a similar sham of a tryout that the Boston Red Sox gave Robinson on April 16, 1945, only this time it was at training camp in a different sport with the New York Rangers in Sept. 1948– a little more than one year after Robinson first played for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.
In 1998, O’Ree was hired by the NHL as a Diversity Ambassador, having given many speeches since to kids and adults alike– those that play the game, those that have played the game and anyone that will listen in-between.
In 2018, O’Ree was finally inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto as a Builder.
Also in 2018, the NHL first presented the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, which is presented annually “to an individual who– through the game of hockey– has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society,” as voted on by a fan vote in combination with weighted votes from O’Ree himself, the NHL and the award’s presenting sponsor, MassMutual.
Fans can submit candidates every year before the field is narrowed to three finalists that are then voted on to select a winner.
O’Ree is also a member of the Order of Canada, has a statue in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. and is awaiting the result of the Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act in the United States Congress on Wednesday.
Oh, and, one more thing, O’Ree played his entire professional career spanning from the 1950s through the 1970s legally blind in his right eye after sustaining an injury in Junior hockey.
On Tuesday night, 64 years to the day that he made his NHL debut with Boston, the Bruins retired O’Ree’s No. 22 in front of 17,850 fans in attendance at TD Garden prior to a, 7-1, loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.
O’Ree became just the 12th player in franchise history to have his number retired, joining the likes of Eddie Shore (No. 2), Lionel Hitchman (No. 3), Bobby Orr (No. 4), “Dit” Clapper (No. 5), Phil Esposito (No. 7), Cam Neely (No. 8), John Bucyk (No. 9), Milt Schmidt (No. 15), Rick Middleton (No. 16), Terry O’Reilly (No. 24) and Ray Bourque (No. 77) in the rafters of TD Garden.
He read a speech from his home in San Diego, California via Zoom before former Bruin and current NHL on TNT analyst, Anson Carter, as well as members of the S.C.O.R.E. Boston Youth Hockey program raised O’Ree’s No. 22 banner to thunderous applause.
Now all that’s needed is another statue outside the building next to Orr’s “The Goal” in The Hub on Causeway.
Or maybe the City of Boston can put it next to City Hall near Bill Russell’s statue.
Tuesday night in Carolina’s, 7-1, victory, Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored a pair of goals while Jaccob Slavin and Tony DeAngelo each had four-point nights from the Hurricanes’ defense.
Frederik Andersen (20-6-0, 2.03 goals-against average, .930 save percentage in 26 games played) made 31 saves on 32 shots faced in the win for the Canes.
Bruins goaltender, Tuukka Rask (1-1-0, 5.25 goals-against average, .821 save percentage in two games played) made seven saves on 12 shots against before being replaced after one period with his team trailing, 5-1– though in large part through no fault of his own for the lack of effort team-wide in the loss.
Linus Ullmark (13-5-0, 2.52 goals-against average, .917 save percentage in 19 games played) made 20 saves on 22 shots in relief of Rask for no decision.
As a result of Tuesday night’s loss, the Bruins are 0-2-0 against the Hurricanes this season.
Boston fell to 22-12-2 (46 points) overall, but the B’s remain in command of 4th place in the Atlantic Division.
Meanwhile, Carolina now sits atop the Metropolitan Division with a 26-8-2 record (54 points) thus far in 2021-22.
Connor Clifton and Matt Grzelcyk were back from the league’s COVID-19 protocol for Boston, while Mike Reilly was placed in the aforementioned protocol ahead of the game on Tuesday.
In addition to Reilly, the Bruins were also without Jakub Zboril (right ACL), Nick Foligno (lower body), Trent Frederic (upper body) and John Moore (upper body) against Carolina.
With Clifton and Grzelcyk back, head coach Bruce Cassidy, adjusted his defensive pairing accordingly– partnering Grzelcyk with his usual suspect on the first defensive pairing alongside Charlie McAvoy, while Clifton went back to his third pairing role with Derek Forbort.
Urho Vaakanainen covered Reilly’s role on the second pair with Brandon Carlo.
On Monday, Karson Kuhlman, was claimed off waivers by the Seattle Kraken– signaling an end to his Bruins career as a result.
The 26-year-old undrafted forward made his NHL debut with Boston in the 2018-19 season and spent parts of four seasons with the B’s in 75 games, amassing 7-8–15 totals in that span.
On Tuesday, goaltender, Kyle Keyser, and forward, Steven Fogarty, were recalled from the Providence Bruins (AHL) and assigned to Boston’s taxi squad.
Reilly, Frederic, Foligno, Moore, Fogarty, Tyler Lewington (the only healthy scratch), Zboril and Keyser were all out of the lineup against Carolina for one reason or another.
Less than four minutes into the action, Slavin sent a pass across the slot to Teuvo Teräväinen (11) for a one-timer goal on Rask’s glove side as the Bruins netminder was forced to sprawl across the crease.
Slavin (18) and DeAngelo (20) tallied the assists on Teräväinen’s goal and the Hurricanes jumped out to a, 1-0, lead at 3:44 of the first period.
A little more than a couple of minutes later, Kotkaniemi (8) wrapped a rebound around Rask’s right leg pad from the doorstep to give Carolina a two-goal lead at 6:03 of the first period.
Andrei Svechnikov (17) and Nino Niederreiter (8) notched the assists as the Canes pulled ahead to a, 2-0, lead with a pair of goals in a span of 2:19.
Midway through the opening frame, Svechnikov was assessed an interference minor at 9:48, yielding the night’s first power play to the Bruins.
Boston took advantage of the ensuing skater advantage on a deflection goal from Patrice Bergeron (12) to cut Carolina’s lead in half, 2-1, at 11:13 of the first period.
David Pastrnak (16) recorded the primary assist with the no-look shot pass off of Bergeron’s skate and into the twine, while McAvoy (19) picked up the secondary assist.
Just 13 seconds later, Kotkaniemi (9) got a stick on a shot from the point by Slavin and deflected the rubber biscuit over Rask’s shoulder to give Carolina another two-goal lead, 3-1.
Slavin (19) and Derek Stepan (5) had the assists on Kotkaniemi’s second goal of the game at 11:26 of the first period.
Less than a minute later, Clifton cut a rut to the sin bin for cross checking at 12:11, but the Hurricanes were not successful on the resulting power play– at least not yet on the night’s list of skater advantage opportunities.
Late in the opening frame, Seth Jarvis (7) waltzed around Clifton and crashed the net on an individual effort for an unassisted goal to give the Canes a, 4-1, lead at 16:01.
56 seconds after that, Stepan (5) scored a goal while crashing the slot as Jordan Martinook took a hit and freed the puck to his teammate in a high danger scoring area.
Martinook (6) had the only assist on Stepan’s goal as Carolina took a, 5-1, lead at 16:57 of the first period.
Entering the first intermission, the Hurricanes had a, 5-1, lead on the scoreboard and a, 12-10, advantage in shots on goal as Boston had allowed five or more goals for the first time in any first period since March 3, 2008, when they gave up six goals to the Washington Capitals in a, 10-2, loss at the then known as Verizon Center.
Alex Ovechkin had a first period hat trick, Matt Bradley and Brooks Laich each had a pair of goals in that game, while all four dressed netminders made an appearance.
Tim Thomas got the start for Boston and was pulled twice after a brief relief appearance by Alex Auld, while Cristobal Huet started the game for the Capitals, but was yanked from the crease with back spasms and replaced by Olaf Kölzig.
Truly, it was the definition of insanity.
The Bruins had goals from Dennis Wideman and Marco Sturm that night, if you’re wondering, while notorious enemy of the Commonwealth, Matt Cooke, opened the night’s scoring.
Meanwhile, Nicklas Bäckström and Donald Brashear also pocketed goals for the Capitals in that wild game from almost 14 years ago.
Back at TD Garden on Tuesday night, while losing, 5-1, after one period, the Bruins led in blocked shots (4-3) and giveaways (4-2) as the Hurricanes also maintained the advantage in takeaways (3-1), hits (13-12) and faceoff win percentage (52-48).
Carolina was 0/1 on the power play, while Boston was 1/1 on the skater advantage heading into the middle frame.
The second period was relatively tame as no goals were scored by either team and a string of penalties opened the ice for lots of skating.
Ullmark replaced Rask before the period began and Brendan Smith caught Craig Smith (no relation) with a high stick at 6:55.
Boston’s power play came up short, however, and would do so again at 10:38 when Sebastian Aho cut a rut for high sticking at 10:38 of the second period.
The Bruins also couldn’t score on an abbreviated 5-on-3 advantage at 11:30 when Ian Cole tripped up McAvoy.
Through 40 minutes of action, the Hurricanes still led, 5-1, on the scoreboard, despite trailing Boston, 23-20, in shots on goal as the Bruins rallied to outshoot Carolina, 13-8, in the second period alone.
The Canes led in blocked shots (13-5) and takeaways (12-2), while the B’s led in giveaways (7-3) and faceoff win% (60-40).
Both teams had 21 hits aside, while the Hurricanes were still 0/1 and the Bruins were now 1/4 on the power play heading into the second intermission.
Vincent Trocheck cross checked Erik Haula 33 seconds into the third period, but Boston’s ensuing power play was cut short when McAvoy and Aho collided near the blue line by the Bruins’ attacking zone– resulting in an interference minor for No. 73 in black and gold at 1:13 of the final frame.
After 80 seconds of 4-on-4 action, the Hurricanes went on an abbreviated power play, but it didn’t take them long for Slavin (2) to riffle a shot from inside the faceoff circle over Ullmark’s blocker on the short side to give Carolina a, 6-1, lead.
DeAngelo (21) and Teräväinen (19) tallied the assists on Slavin’s power-play goal at 3:05 of the third period and the Hurricanes had a five-goal lead as a result.
Haula later caught Slavin with a high stick at 6:04 and presented Carolina with another power play for good measure.
The Hurricanes got their money’s worth as Svechnikov (13) stayed aggressive on a loose puck in the slot and elevated the rubber biscuit over Ullmark as the Bruins goaltender was down.
Aho (23) and DeAngelo (22) notched the assists on Svechnikov’s power-play goal and Carolina continued to blow Boston out of their own building, 7-1, at 7:48 of the third period.
After that nothing else happened.
There were no more goals, nor penalties, as fans left TD Garden early either to make the trains out of North Station due to the later than usual start as a result of the night’s opening ceremonies or simply to avoid watching the seconds tick down while lackluster entertainment continued on the ice.
At the final horn, Carolina had won, 7-1, and finished the night leading in shots on goal, 34-23, including a, 14-9, advantage in the third period– tied for the second-most shots allowed in any third period by Boston this season.
The Bruins had previously given up 14 shots against in the third period on Opening Night against the Dallas Stars in a, 3-1, win on Oct. 16th at TD Garden and gave up a season-worst 16 shots against in the third period alone twice within a span of a week apart– once on Dec. 2nd in a, 2-0, shutout win in Nashville and again on Dec. 9th in a, 3-2, win in Edmonton.
Tuesday night didn’t have the same end result for Boston, despite being badly outshot in the third period.
The Hurricanes exited the building with the all-important victory and led the night in blocked shots (16-9), while the Bruins left their own ice leading in giveaways (8-5) and faceoff win% (55-45).
Both teams had 26 hits aside.
Carolina went 2/3 on the power play, while the B’s finished the night’s action 1/5 on the skater advantage.
Boston fell to 7-7-2 (4-4-1 at home) when allowing the game’s first goal, 3-7-1 (3-4-1 at home) when trailing after the first period and 3-9-2 (3-5-1 at home) when trailing after the second period this season.
Carolina, meanwhile, improved to an impressive 17-2-1 (10-1-1 on the road) when scoring first, 15-1-0 (7-1-0 on the road) when leading after one and 17-1-1 (7-0-1 on the road) when leading after two in 2021-22.
The Bruins continue their seven-game homestand (3-1-0) against the Washington Capitals on Thursday before the Winnipeg Jets visit Boston on Saturday.
The B’s are currently scheduled to wrap things up at on this current homestand next Monday against the Anaheim Ducks before hitting the road for three games with stops in Colorado, Arizona and Dallas to close out the month of January– at least until the remaining condensed schedule is announced on Wednesday, that is.