For those who want to see Willie O’Ree in the Hockey Hall of Fame, it’s time to put our money where our mouths are.
The Hockey Hall of Fame Selection Committee – the gatekeepers who decide who’s in and who’s not – is ramping up its decision-making process for the Hall Class of 2018.
Selection Committee members have until April 15 to submit names of who they think are Hall-worthy. Those nominees are debated and voted on during an Elections Meeting in June. The annual Hall induction takes place in November.
While the Selection Committee has the most say in this process, there is an outlet for public input.
The deadline for public submissions is March 15, so time is of the essence. Here is a link to how the process works and how you can make a submission.
It doesn’t guarantee that O’Ree will be nominated, but it lets Selection Committee members know that there’s heavy of support to let the National Hockey League’s first black player into the the hockey shrine.
From hockey fans to players to hockey analysts, there are plenty of folks out there who want to see O’Ree in the Hall of Fame in the Builder’s category.
Change.org has a petition calling for O’Ree’s Hall induction for his “significant contributions to the game as a pioneer of the sport.”
Thirteen members city government of Fredericton, New Brunswick – O’Ree’s home town in Canada – sent a letter to the Hockey Hall of Fame urging O’Ree’s induction. Fredericton Member of Parliament Matt DeCourcey added his voice with a floor speech last month in the House of Commons.
“A member of the New Brunswick Hall of Fame (and ) the Order of Canada, there remains but one honor to be bestowed this person who left such an indelible mark on this sport,” DeCourcey said. “Mr. Speaker, for his dedication as a builder, I am sure Frederictonians, New Brunswickers, Canadians and hockey fans around the world share the view that it is past time that Willie O’Ree be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.”
Karl Subban – the father of Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban, Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Malcolm Subban, and Los Angeles Kings defensive prospect Jordan Subban – is sending a submission letter through an O’Ree Hall induction effort launched by Fredericton residents.
“He changed the game and he changed society and he changed minds,” Karl Subban wrote. “He changed hockey, which is now for everyone. Hockey needed him and so does the Hockey Hall of Fame. The time is right.”
Damon Kwame Mason, director of the award-winning “Soul on Ice: Past, Present & Future” black hockey history documentary, is also pushing for O’Ree’s induction.
So are several major hockey writers and analysts.
No question for me. The work he has done as a Builder over the last 20+ years is incredible. He's still pounding the pavement, flying all over the place at age 82, to share his story and include everyone. https://t.co/gRUvYfd1ZB
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) February 28, 2018
This is a no brainer. For decades Willie has been one of the leagues biggest ambassadors in growing the game. Long overdue. https://t.co/XkBHMSVKEm
— David Amber (@DavidAmber) February 28, 2018
Speaking of Willie O'Ree, him not being in the Hall of Fame seems like a pretty big miss by everybody involved over there, doesn't it?
— Adam Gretz (@AGretz) February 16, 2018
The criteria for entry in the Hall of Fame as a Builder is “Coaching, managerial or executive ability, or ability in another significant off-ice role, sportsmanship, character and contributions to his or her organization or organizations and to the game of hockey in general.”
O’Ree fits this category because he has helped change the face of the game, not just by for becoming the first black man to play in the NHL when he took to the old Montreal Forum ice on Jan. 18, 1958 as a forward for the Boston Bruins – but he’s done since.
He has been an inspiration to a generation of young hockey players and fans of color. They look at this still-fit 82-year-old man, learn about the racial abuse he suffered in order to make it to the pros, and how he played in the NHL and minor leagues despite being blind in his right eye, and say “if he can do it, so can I.”
O’Ree has worked tirelessly as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador since 1998, crisscrossing the United States and Canada to visit youth hockey programs affiliated with the NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone” initiative.
His impact goes beyond getting more kids of color to lace on skates and grab sticks. O’Ree has also been a father figure, sounding board and role model for many of the minority players in the NHL today.
Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds recently said “Willie is not only a hero to me in hockey, but a hero in life.”
Pittsburgh Penguins tough guy forward Ryan Reaves vowed to have a big game in honor of O’Ree, who was in the house last month for the Pens-Kings game at PPG Paints Arena.
It was an honor to have you at morning skate, Willie O'Ree!
Coach Sullivan: “Willie is a testament to perseverance. He might have faced more adversity than any of us. I think he’s a great example of dedication. He’s been a great ambassador to the sport.”#HockeyIsForEveryone pic.twitter.com/v1b63RgPD8
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 15, 2018
Not known as a scorer, Reaves had a goal that night.
“Obviously with Willie O’Ree in the house it was pretty special,” Reaves told reporters. “He was a pioneer for players like me and it was nice to get him one.”
Reaves added: “That is somebody you look up to. He was big in the NHL, big in all sports for players like me.”
This years marks the 60th anniversary of Willie O’Ree making hockey history. Will the Hockey Hall of Fame make history this year and let Willie O’Ree in?
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