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NHL pioneer Willie O'Ree set to receive Congressional Gold Medal

Posted at 1:46 PM, Jan 19, 2022

Sixty-four years after becoming the first Black player to play in an NHL game, hockey pioneer Willie O'Ree is set to receive the highest award given by Congress.

On Wednesday, the NHL announced that the House passed the bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to O'Ree.

The Senate passed the bipartisan legislation unanimously back in July.

News of the vote came one day after the Boston Bruins honored O'Ree by retiring his jersey.

"Receiving the Congressional Gold Medal is simply one of the greatest honors of my life," O'Ree said. "There are no words to describe how special the last few days have been, with the Boston Bruins retiring my number and U.S. Congress voting for this amazing recognition. I will always be humbled and grateful to be a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal, and I am especially thankful to everyone who worked so hard to make this moment happen."

In 2019, Republican Sen. Tim Scott, and Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, announced their bipartisan legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to O'Ree.

O'Ree became the first Black player to play in the NHL when he debuted with the Bruins in 1958.

"I will never forget how my teammates in the Bruins locker room accepted me as one of their own," O'Ree said as he accepted the honor. "This was a time when some of the fans and opposing players were not ready to see a Black man in the NHL."

O'Ree became the 12th player to have his jersey retired by the Bruins.