Willie O'Ree inspires Duluth children to play hockey

It has been over five decades since Willie O’Ree broke the National Hockey League’s color barrier, yet diversity remains almost non-existent in the NHL today. O’Ree, who became the NHL’s first black player when he broke in with the Boston Bruins during the 1957-58 season, was at Community Action Duluth’s third annual Pucks Against Poverty event on Saturday, April 21 at the Duluth Heritage Sports Center.

Members of the UMD men’s and women’s hockey teams were also there, including former Bulldog J.T. Brown, one of just a handful of black players in the NHL.

O’Ree currently serves as the NHL’s director of diversity and youth development. He works with non-profit organizations and travels to events throughout the country trying to introduce hockey to kids. He says the cost associated with hockey drives many kids to other, less expensive sports, such as basketball and soccer. But he sees positive signs for diversity in the future.

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