LESSONS IN BLACK HISTORY – Willie O'Ree

willieoreeWILLIE O’REE – Canadian born Will O’Ree was the first black to play professional hockey in the NHL. He started out in the minor leagues, before moving up to the majors to play for the Boston Bruins in 1958. At the time, O’Ree was 95% blind in his right eye, which he managed to keep secret, as it would have kept him from playing in the NHL. It would take 16 years for the NHL to get another black player, Mike Marson, who was drafted to the Washington Capitals in 1974. Despite his distinction of being the first black player in the NHL, O’Ree was not the first black hockey player. In 1894, the Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes was formed in Nova Scotia by the sons and grandson of runaway American slaves that had come to live in Canada. The formation of the CHL predates the formation of the NHL by over twenty years. The CHL was made of approximately twelve teams, with over 400 black players from eastern Canada’s Maritime Provinces.  Some believe that Eddie Martin of the CHL’s Halifax Eurekas was the first hockey player to use the slapshot.

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