<
>

New England sports museum unveils O'Ree exhibit

BOSTON -- A half-century later, Willie O'Ree took his place
beside some of the most dazzling names in sports.

The man who broke the NHL's racial barrier joined such New
England sports greats as Ted Williams, Bill Russell, Bobby Orr,
Larry Bird and Tom Brady.

One day and 50 years ago, O'Ree stepped on the ice at the
Montreal Forum as the sport's first black player. Now, The Sports
Museum of New England has honored the 72-year-old native of
Fredericton, New Brunswick, with his own exhibit.

"I've been talking and done so many interviews and radio and
TV, but when I looked at them, I had flashbacks and I could
remember each and every picture that was there," O'Ree said, with
his wife, son and daughter looking on before the Bruins-Rangers
game.

His No. 22 uniform sweater and a commissioned portrait serve as
the two centerpieces of the "Willie O'Ree: Hockey Pioneer"
display unveiled on the fifth floor of TD Banknorth Garden.

"On the roster of all-time Bruins players, Willie's name falls
between Terry O'Reilly and Bobby Orr. More importantly, though, I
feel his name falls between that of Arthur Ashe and Jackie
Robinson," said Dick Johnson, The Sports Museum curator.

O'Ree lent the museum all the items for the exhibit from his
personal collection.

"It's a privilege for us to be here to honor him in his hockey
home of Boston 50 years from the day he first made it on the ice,"
Johnson added. "Willie, you have been a part of the sports museum
and will be a part of it forever."

The Bruins continued their tribute with on-ice logos behind each
net and banners on the side and corner boards commemorating the
anniversary.

O'Ree is currently director of youth development for the NHL's
diversity program. O'Ree was escorted by two children of the
program to center ice for a ceremonial puck drop before the game.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and former teammate Johnny
Bucyk honored O'Ree during the first break between periods. NHL
Players Association chief Paul Kelly announced a donation of
$10,000 to SCORE Boston, O'Ree's program to promote and develop the
sport in underprivileged areas of Boston.

"I'm kind of at a loss for words and I shouldn't be because of
all the speaking engagements over the years," O'Ree said. "This
is a very, very special day for me."