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Saturday, January 26, 2008

NHL Celebrates "Jackie Robinson of Hockey"


On January 18, 1958 a young Willie O'Ree took to the ice of an NHL game and scored no goals, but changed the game forever. O'Ree was the first African-American to play in the NHL and open up the doors for other players to come into the league. On Friday, as a part of the NHL All-Star Weekend, they celebrated the pioneer to mark the 5oth Anniversary of the event. "He was the Jackie Robinson of hockey,'' said Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla, who was on hand along with Bobby Hull, Johnny Bower, Ted Lindsay, Martin Luther King III and Ambassador Andrew Young . O'Ree is a part of the NHL's Diversity program and has helped 40,000 kids get involved in the sport he loved. Though he loved the game, he endured rough times as he broke the color barrier. "I had to fight,'' recalled O'Ree of the prejudice he encountered in many leagues during his playing career. "Not because anybody butt-ended me or speared me. I just wanted to protect myself. I heard the N-word so many times I thought they were paying me a compliment. I thought 'If they can't accept me for my skills and abilities, then it's their tough luck. Sometimes it got a little rough." Congratulations to the NHL for honoring this pioneer that too few of us have heard of.

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