June 26, 2018 / 8:40 PM / 20 days ago

O'Ree, NHL's first black player, earns Hall of Fame induction

TORONTO (Reuters) - Willie O’Ree, who in 1958 became the first black player to play in the National Hockey League, was among the six individuals selected for induction to the Hockey Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2018 revealed on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Former ice hockey player Willie O'Ree (L) smiles after being awarded the rank of Member in the Order of Canada by Governor General Michaelle Jean at Rideau Hall in Ottawa April 7, 2010. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

O’Ree, who will enter the Toronto-based shrine in the Builders category, faced racial slurs when he made his National Hockey League debut with the Boston Bruins but he and paved the way for the players of diverse ethnic backgrounds.

The 82-year-old Canadian has served as NHL Diversity Ambassador and Director of Youth Development over the last 20 years, helping establish many local grassroots hockey programs and inspiring countless young people to play the game.

“There are a select few about whom it truly can be said: ‘He changed the game.’ Willie O’Ree is among that select few,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who was also among those selected to the Class of 2018, said in a statement.

“He has done it just about every day since, inspiring generations of NHL players who followed the path he blazed and working tirelessly to encourage and enable countless boys and girls, who otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity, to participate in our game and learn the many life lessons it teaches.

“We are truly delighted at Willie’s well-earned selection.”

FILE PHOTO: Jan 28, 2018; Tampa, FL, USA; Atlantic Division All-Stars and Metropolitan Division All-Stars pose for a picture with former hockey player Willie O'Ree (22) during the 2018 NHL All Star Game at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

O’Ree will be inducted into the Toronto-based shrine on Nov. 12 along with players Martin Brodeur, Jayna Hefford, Martin St. Louis and Alexander Yakushev and fellow builder Bettman.

O’Ree scored four goals and added 10 assists in 45 career NHL games over two seasons.

“Sometimes, goals, assists, points or shutouts measure a person’s place in the game,” said Hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky, who holds the NHL’s all-time record for points.

“But desire, determination, work ethic and the drive not to let obstacles get in his way? That is why Willie has earned his induction into the Hall.”

O’Ree, who entered the NHL a decade after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, becomes the Hall of Fame’s third black member, joining Edmonton Oilers goalie Grant Fuhr and Canadian women’s national team captain Angela James.

“Willie paved the path for the rest of us. In that way he is a true builder of the game,” said Fuhr, who won five Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers.

“If you look up the word ‘builder’ there should be a picture of Willie. He is the Jackie Robinson of hockey.”

Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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