Willie O'Ree: The Story of the First Black Player in the NHL

Willie O'Ree: The Story of the First Black Player in the NHL

by Nicole Mortillaro
     
 

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Willie O'Ree quietly made NHL history at the Montreal Forum on January 18, 1958, when he became the first black player to take to the ice. In the dressing room before the game, his Boston Bruins teammates told him not to worry. If any one of the Montreal players said anything to him, they'd have his back.

There was a round of applause when O'Ree stepped onto

Overview

Willie O'Ree quietly made NHL history at the Montreal Forum on January 18, 1958, when he became the first black player to take to the ice. In the dressing room before the game, his Boston Bruins teammates told him not to worry. If any one of the Montreal players said anything to him, they'd have his back.

There was a round of applause when O'Ree stepped onto the ice, and newspapers ran the story. The colour barrier in the NHL had been broken, yet it would be sixteen years before the next black player, Mike Marson (also a Canadian), was drafted. Four decades later, the NHL pulled O'Ree out of retirement to honour his achievement and make him an ambassador for the NHL's "Hockey is for Everyone" program to encourage kids from all backgrounds to play hockey.

This new book by Nicole Mortillaro traces the early life of O'Ree in Fredericton, New Brunswick, his journey to the NHL, highlights from his hockey career, and his work encouraging diversity in the NHL.

[Fry reading level - 4.9]

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Anita Lock
Willie O'Ree was a natural on ice skates by the age of three in 1938. One of thirteen children, Willie had plenty of opportunities to skate on frozen ponds and outdoor rinks in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. In 1949 he was fourteen when he started playing organized hockey. Taking up baseball during the warmer season was the custom of many hockey players, so by the age of twenty, Willie played pro baseball for the Marysville Royals. It was during this time in 1955 that he tried out for the Milwaukee Braves. Of course, this meant that he would have to travel to the Deep South to the training camp. This was the first time he had even experienced the viciousness of racism. Fortunately, he was not placed on the team list and was very relieved to return home, and on his return, he noticed that the more north he traveled, the more he was able to sit at the front of the bus. Though baseball was fun, Willie's real love was for hockey. His brother, Richard, encouraged Willie to make a career in the National Hockey League (NHL) because of his incredible skills, which eventually opened up many great opportunities to play in different teams back home in Canada. One opportunity changed his life forever, though, during the 1955-56 season while playing for the Kitchener-Waterloo Junior Canucks: a puck deflected off a stick and hit Willie just above his right eye, shattering his retina and thereby leaving him blind in that eye. Willie, determined to get back on the ice, started playing again a month and a half after the incident. But now with the vision of one eye, he had to work harder to compensate for the peripheral vision that he had lost. Willie's big break to be in the NHL came when he played for the Boston Bruins in 1958. As happy as he was to be the first black man in this league, he could not avoid the racism that raised its ugly head at almost every game. Racial issues continued for the various teams he played for until 1974 when he retired. More than twenty years later, the NHL developed the Diversity Task Force and invited Willie to the Willie O'Ree All-Star Weekend in 1996. Seeing an opportunity to help underprivileged youth get involved in sports, Willie became program director the following year. One in a number of non-fiction "Recordbook" series for reluctant readers, this book, according to the publisher's website, is replete with a wealth of information "showing the process of social change through the lens of the true story of a sports hero." Besides the nine chapters that highlight Willie's story and informational text boxes that offer historical perspective, the final pages include an author's note, glossary, and index. This book is engaging, and, I believe, is certain to be a favorite among young sport enthusiasts. Reviewer: Anita Lock

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781459401976
Publisher:
James Lorimer & Company Ltd., Publishers
Publication date:
09/12/2012
Series:
Lorimer Recordbooks Series
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
120
Lexile:
790L (what's this?)
File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

NICOLE MORTILLARO is the author of several hockey books for children, including the Recordbooks Something to Prove and Jarome Iginla. She lives in Richmond Hill, Ontario.
NICOLE MORTILLARO is a children's sports books author and editor. She is an avid hockey fan (Leafs, not Flyers!) and has edited several bestselling children's hockey books. Nicole lives north of Toronto with her daughter.

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