SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – A hockey legend is in Springfield Friday with a special message for children.
Willie O’Ree was the first and only black hockey player in the National Hockey League when he joined in 1958.
After retiring from the game in 1980, he became the director of the NHL diversity program in 1998.
O’Ree was born in New Brunswick, Canada, but he said if children aren’t born around ice and snow, they likely won’t learn the game. He’s pushing to open more rinks and make the sport more racially diverse.
“It’s opened up. A lot of people say it’s the white man’s sport, but there are a lot of not only black players and players of color, but there are a lot of other nationalities that are playing this sport,” he said.
O’Ree was in Springfield to speak at schools and to be inducted into the Springfield Hockey Hall of Fame.