A book by Willie O'Ree with Michael McKinley.

Willie O'Ree with Michael McKinley

In 1958, Willie O'Ree was a lot like any other player toiling in the minors. He was good. Good enough to have been signed by the Boston Bruins. Just not quite good enough to play in the NHL.

Until January 18 of that year. O'Ree was finally called up, and when he stepped out onto the ice against the Montreal Canadians, not only did he fulfil the childhood dream he shared with so many other Canadian kids, he did something that had never been done before.

He broke hockey's colour barrier. Just as his hero, Jackie Robinson, had done for baseball.

In that pioneering first NHL game, O'Ree proved that no one could stop him from being a hockey player. But he soon learned that he could never be just a hockey player. He would always be a black player, with all that entails. There were ugly name-calling and stick-swinging incidents, and nights when the Bruins had to be escorted to their bus by the police.

But O'Ree never backed down. When he retired in 1979, he had played hundreds of games as a pro, and scored hundreds of goals, his boyhood dreams more than accomplished.

In 2018, O'Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in recognition not only of that legacy, but of the way he has built on it in the decades since. He has been, for 20 years now, an NHL executive and has helped the NHL diversity program expose more than 40,000 boys and girls of diverse backgrounds to unique hockey experiences.

Inspiring, frank, and shot through with the kind of understated courage and decency required to change the world, Willie is a story for anyone willing to persevere for a dream. (From Viking)

Michael McKinley is a journalist, documentary filmmaker and screenwriter from Vancouver. He is also the author of the nonfiction book Hockey: A People's History and the novel The Penalty Killing.

More about Willie O'Ree

Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first Black player, on racism in hockey

2 years ago
Duration 9:19
Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first Black player, reflects on his legacy and the fight against anti-Black racism in hockey.

NHL's first Black player Willie O'Ree on how the game has changed

2 years ago
Duration 9:36
The National's Ian Hanomansing talks to hockey trailblazer Willie O'Ree about breaking the NHL colour-barrier, how far things have come since then and how far there is still to go.

Willie O'Ree, NHL's first black player, on breaking barriers and challenging racism in hockey

3 years ago
Duration 3:43
O'Ree, who became the first black player in the NHL in 1958, is now featured on a commemorative coin marking this year's Black History Month. O'Ree spoke to CBC's Adrian Harewood about overcoming adversity and why the game of hockey should be for everyone.

9 NHL black history moments ... in 90 seconds

3 years ago
Duration 1:53
Willie O'Ree broke the league's colour barrier in 1958, and there have been a lot of firsts since then. Rob Pizzo walks you through 9 trailblazers for Black History Month. 

Celebrate Canadian Black Sporting Excellence

3 years ago
Duration 2:27
From Willie O'Ree to Angela James, from Donovan Bailey to Andre De Grasse, from being trailblazers in sport, to being champions of the world we celebrate Canadian Black Sporting Excellence.

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