Hockey Hall of Famer Willie O'Ree, who broke the NHL's color barrier with the Boston Bruins in 1958, has joined the ownership group of the Premier Hockey Federation's Boston Pride, sources told ESPN.
"The growth of the women's game is so important, and I admire these world class athletes for being role models who are making a difference for younger generations," said O'Ree, 86, in a statement. "I'm proud to be a member of the Pride and look forward to cheering these women on as they compete for another championship."
No financial terms were disclosed. The Pride were one of the four founding teams of the National Women's Hockey League in 2015, which was rebranded as the PHF this season. They're the reigning Isobel Cup winners, having captured the league championship in 2016 and 2021.
O'Ree is one of the most celebrated figures in hockey history. He's been the NHL's diversity ambassador since 1998 and was an instrumental part of its "Hockey Is For Everyone" initiatives. His No. 22 was retired by the Boston Bruins this season. O'Ree is the only person to receive the highest civilian awards handed out by the U.S. (Congressional Gold Medal) and Canada (Order of Canada).
Johanna Boynton, a member of the PHF Board of Governors, said having O'Ree involved is "phenomenal" for the league.
"He's been such a trailblazer for hockey, and for inclusivity and diversity within the hockey ecosystem. He's helping to broaden our ownership group in a way that reflects our values and our mission," she said. "It's just a privilege. He's so well respected and admired, in Boston and in the hockey world."
It's the second major BIPOC ownership news for the PHF recently. Boynton sold ownership of the Toronto Six franchise to a group that includes Hockey Hall of Fame member Angela James, former NHL coach Ted Nolan, former NHL player Anthony Stewart and Bernice Carnegie, the daughter of Herb Carnegie, who like O'Ree was a trailblazer for Black hockey players.
Saroya Tinker, a defender for the Six, said Toronto's new owners and O'Ree's involvement with Boston underscores the "education, empowerment and inclusion" mantra for the PHF.
"We strive to be the most inclusive and the most diverse professional league, and that takes time to build. But this is the next step in that, opening the doors to everyone," said Tinker. "These are passionate, committed, devoted people, and everyone who wants to grow this game should be part of it."
The PHF's 2021-22 season has been streamed on ESPN+. The Isobel Cup Playoffs are scheduled for March 25-28 in Tampa, Florida, with the Isobel Cup championship scheduled for March 28 at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2.