BOSTON (CBS) -- Sixty-four years to the date that he broke the NHL's color barrier while making his debut for the Boston Bruins, Willie O'Ree's jersey number was raised to the rafters, where it will remain alongside the all-time greats in franchise history.
The Bruins retired the No. 22 in honor of O'Ree on Tuesday night at the TD Garden, a ceremony that was postponed from last season so that fans could be in attendance for the occasion.
O'Ree himself opted to remain on the West Coast, due to COVID concerns, but he participated virtually as the Bruins honored him before their game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
O'Ree became the first Black player in the NHL in 1958, debuting with the Bruins.
"I will never forget how my teammates in the Bruins locker room accepted me as one of their own," O'Ree said during the ceremony. "This was a time when some of the fans and opposing players were not ready to see a Black man in the NHL."
He played just 45 games for the NHL, but his impact on breaking the NHL's color barrier led to him being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018. In 2021, he was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal, "in recognition of his extraordinary contributions and commitment to hockey, inclusion, and recreational opportunity."
O'Ree became the 12th player in Bruins history to have his number retired, joining Lionel Hitchman (No. 3), Dit Clapper (No. 5), Eddie Shore (No. 2), Milt Schmidt (No. 15), Bobby Orr (No. 4), Johnny Bucyk (No. 9), Phil Esposito (No. 7), Ray Bourque (No. 77), Terry O'Reilly (No. 24), Cam Neely (No. 8), and Rick Middleton (No. 16).
The ceremony extended beyond the walls of the Garden, as various landmarks around Boston -- like City Hall, Fenway Park, and the Zakim Bridge, to name a few -- were lit up gold to honor O'Ree.
Mayor Michelle Wu has also declared Tuesday as Willie O'Ree Day in Boston.
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