Offseason Watch: Willie O’Ree is Finally Heading to the Hall

The barrier-breaking player, who has a long history with southern California hockey, will finally be honored in the Hockey Hall of Fame

After far too long of a wait, Willie O’Ree will finally take his place in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Long after O’Ree became the first player to break the color barrier in the NHL — in 1958, making it the last of the professional sports leagues to do so— the hockey world has finally seen fit to enshrine him amongst the other great names of the sport.

O’Ree has a long history in southern California, as we wrote about two years ago; he spent six seasons with the Los Angeles Blades of the minor league Western Hockey League, and parts of eight years playing in San Diego.

For the past 20 years, O’Ree has worked for the NHL as an ambassador for diversity, helping to bring hockey to disadvantaged and minority communities. This year, the league honored him with the creation of the Willie O’Ree Community Hero award, recognizing individuals who have positively impacted their community, culture, or society, via the game of hockey. The first award was bestowed posthumously on Darcy Haugan, the coach of the Humboldt Broncos.

The voices to right a wrong and select O’Ree for the Hall of Fame have been growing over the years. His bid for the Hall was supported by old fashioned grassroots activism, including letters in support from Joel Ward, Karl Subban (father of PK, Malcolm, and Jordan), government officials from his hometown of Fredericton, New Brunswick, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and many others.

Joining O’Ree in the Hall of Fame will be Martin Brodeur, Martin St. Louis, Alexander Yakushev, Jayna Hefford, and … Gary Bettman? Gary Bettman. Okay then.

More on Willie O’Ree

The Color of Hockey:

O’Ree’s Hall admission is a testament to a grassroots movement of NHL players, past and present, elected officials across North America, and thousands of hockey fans who thought it an injustice that he wasn’t inducted years ago.

Wayne Simmonds, The Players’ Tribune:

Without Willie, there would be no Jarome Iginla. There would be no Grant Fuhr, or P.K. Subban or Ray Emery or Dustin Byfuglien or so many others who have had the honor of playing in this great league. There would definitely be no Wayne Simmonds.

The Undefeated:

Then he literally felt the weight of all the people who had supported his bid to be inducted. The first call he got was from members of his hometown in Fredericton, New Brunswick. After that he couldn’t keep up as the number of calls and voicemails swelled past a number he could get back to in time. No worries, he’s going to thank every person who has reached out to him personally, because he’s trying to enjoy every second of this moment with the people who have been in his corner supporting him.

The Athletic (Q&A with O’Ree):

If his work with underserviced communities at the grassroots level has been exemplary — not to mention tireless — it seems fitting that his path to the Hall of Fame was a grassroots one as well with friends and supporters appealing through letters and testimonials forwarded to the Hall of Fame’s selection committee in recent years.

The Globe and Mail:

In total, the trio compiled a 70-page document and submitted it to the Hall of Fame’s 18-member selection committee, which will decide by April 15, confidentially, whether to advance O’Ree’s name and formally nominate him. He would then need to be elected with at least 75 per cent of the committee’s votes in order to be inducted with the Hall’s 2018 class in June.

“This public-submission process has allowed us to learn firsthand about the far reaches of the positive influence of Willie O’Ree,” Sansom said. “Through it all our community and our country have come to realize what a priceless gift we have in this man.”

More on the Kings

Development camp is underway in Los Angeles. Gabe Vilardi continues to stand out, as well as Jaret Anderson-Dolan, this year’s first round pick Rasmus Kupari, and Drake Rymsha [ LA Kings Insider ]

The Kings tendered qualifying offers to defensemen Paul LaDue, Kurtis MacDermid, and Alex Lintuniemi, the latter of which is still waiting to make his first NHL appearance. Contracts have not yet been finalized. That means that Tobias Rieder, Jordan Subban, and Justin Auger did not receive offers, and are now unrestricted free agents. Rieder brought speed, but struggled at providing depth scoring. Subban, acquired last season in exchange for Nic Dowd, never quite caught on in Ontario. He was a healthy scratch for many games, including the playoffs, and put up eight points in 36 games. Auger is one of the few remaining players from the Manchester Monarchs; he played two games for the Kings last season. [ LA Kings ]

Best wishes to Jim Fox, currently on the mend from a hip replacement.

More on Everyone Else

Five-time Olympian Jayna Hefford — for whom the CWHL’s MVP trophy is named for — finally gets her nod for the Hall of Fame. [ The Ice Garden ]

The Vegas Golden Knights are fighting StubHub. By fighting, I mean suing. [ Las Vegas Review-Journal ]

Over two-thirds of NHL teams are participating in their local pride parades this year. [ Outsports ]

I know it hurts, but here’s Justin Williams: