T-Birds to Honor Willie O'Ree at Hockey is For Everyone NightOct 5, 2017
(ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE)
Springfield, MA - The Springfield Thunderbirds today announced that they will be honoring one of the most influential players in the history of professional hockey, Willie O’Ree, at "Hockey is For Everyone" Night presented by MGM Springfield on Friday, November 3rd at the MassMutual Center. Known as the “Jackie Robinson of hockey,” O'Ree spent 21 seasons in professional hockey, becoming the first black player in both the American Hockey League and National Hockey League.
On October 12, 1957, O'Ree made his first appearance in the AHL with the Springfield Indians, a truly seminal, yet oftentimes overlooked, event in the history of professional sports. Just three months later, on January 18, 1958, O'Ree took the ice for the Boston Bruins, accomplishing the same historic feat on the game's highest stage.
The Thunderbirds are proud to honor O'Ree in this, the 60th anniversary of his Springfield AHL debut. O'Ree will be inducted into the Springfield Hockey Hall of Fame prior to the Thunderbirds game versus the Hartford Wolf Pack. He will be presented with a plaque to commemorate his induction and to take his rightful place amongst the greats of Springfield hockey history. The night will also serve as a celebration of hockey's diversity - namely that hockey is for everyone. O'Ree will be available for a meet-and-greet with Thunderbirds fans from 6:00 p.m. until 6:30 p.m.
"Willie O'Ree made history in our city 60 years ago and has been a trailblazer for the sport of hockey," said Thunderbirds President Nathan Costa. "We are proud to host him and rightfully induct him into the Springfield Hockey Hall of Fame for what he has done in service to hockey, both on and off the ice."
O'Ree will also be entrenched in the Springfield community during the day on November 3, including a visit to the Springfield Renaissance School, where O’Ree will address the students in attendance.
"At MGM Springfield, we are proud to be a part of this historic occasion," said Alex Dixon, General Manager, MGM Springfield. "This night marks a hat trick for us linking our core commitment to diversity, dedication to the City of Springfield, and enthusiasm for Thunderbirds hockey at the MassMutual Center."
O'Ree accomplished his landmark, pioneering achievements despite losing sight in his right eye at a young age, the result of being hit by a hockey puck.
In the days since his playing career ended, O'Ree has been a constant presence in the hockey community. Since 1998, O’Ree has served as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, spreading the message that hockey is for everyone. Working directly with non-profit grassroots hockey programs supported by the NHL, he travels across North America to share his story and experiences, helping underprivileged, marginalized and disadvantaged children build confidence, character and life skills. O'Ree encourages athletes to prioritize a commitment to their education while setting personal goals off the ice, and working hard to achieve those goals.
O'Ree's motto reflects his mission with the children: "If you think you can, you can; if you think you can't… you're right. You never fail until you stop trying."
The Thunderbirds open their 2017-18 home ice schedule on Saturday, Oct. 14 for a matchup with the rival Hartford Wolf Pack. Ticket memberships, including season tickets, are on sale now, starting at just $12 per game. Thunderbirds Full Season Ticket Members receive the most benefits, including a refillable collector’s mug and a commemorative jersey. For more information or to order now, call (413) 739-GOAL (4625) or visit www.SpringfieldThunderbirds.com.