On Tuesday, the White House announced that Willie O’Ree will receive the Congressional Gold Medal from U.S. President Joe Biden.
Biden signed the “Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act” into law, which will give O’Ree the award for his success in the sport of hockey, his contributions to further building equality in sports, and for becoming the first black player in NHL history.
He became the first hockey player in history to receive the Congressional Gold Medal nearly 250 years after it was created.
O’Ree was huge in the Southern Californian hockey market, playing with Los Angeles Blades in the Western Hockey League from 1961 to 1967, and then joined the San Diego Gulls from 1967 to 1974, and then the Hawks, who also played in San Diego in the Pacific Hockey League during the 1978-79 campaign.
Throughout his hockey career in SoCal, O’Ree suited up for 838 games and recorded 349 goals and 685 points.
Even though he was 37 years of age when the WHL ceased to exist, he settled to play in two lower-level leagues in San Diego rather than immediately retire or head out back East to play hockey. In fact, 60 years after first arriving in Los Angeles, O’Ree still remains in California, as he resides in San Diego.
O’Ree has visited schools in the past in Orange County as part of the Anaheim Ducks’ Scholastic Curriculum of Recreation and Education program, where he spoke to students about diversity and overcoming obstacles.
At 86 years old, the New Brunswick native continues to make a difference in the lives of many. “[…] my idol Willie O’Ree’s number will be hung from the rafters. I can’t stress how much Mr. O’Ree has meant to me and millions of other BIPOC kids who love the game of hockey,” said former Kings forward Wayne Simmonds when O’Ree’s number was retired in Boston in January.
It’s truly amazing to see O’Ree continue to get his recognition in the hockey community, from being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame to recently getting his number retired by the Boston Bruins.
Little kids growing up will always know the name Willie O’Ree. He is one of the biggest reasons that the sport has progressed, not only in Southern California but all over the world.