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The call for Willie O’Ree’s induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame reached the U.S. Congress Tuesday.

Rep. Michael Quigley, a Democrat from Chicago, took to the floor of the House of Representatives and said that “there are few players worthier to be inducted into the Hall of Fame and it is long overdue that Willie be added to that list.”

Quigley referred to O’Ree, the National Hockey League’s first black player, as “the ‘Jackie Robinson’ of hockey” who overcame “racial slurs…and blindness in his right eye” to become “a trusted champion for diversity, a proponent of inclusion, and an inspiration for so many young players both on and off the ice.”

“Each February we celebrate Black History Month as well as ‘Hockey is for Everyone Month,‘ and no one embodies both of  those tributes as profoundly as living legend Willie O’Ree,” Quigley said on the House floor. “I thank him for his continued effort to increase access for all people of all backgrounds to get out on the ice and play the greatest game” in the world.

Quigley, a co-chair of the bipartisan  Congressional Hockey Caucus, has seen O’Ree’s impact up close. The congressman has watched O’Ree school kids hockey and life skills during visits to programs like Chicago’s Hockey on Your Block and Washington, D.C.’s, Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club, the nation’s oldest minority-oriented youth hockey program.

His House speech adds to the effort to persuade member’s the Hall of Fame’s Selection Committee to induct O’Ree, who became the NHL’s first black player on Jan. 18, 1958 when his Boston Bruins faced the Montreal Canadiens at the old Montreal Forum.

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O’Ree, a forward, didn’t have a long NHL career – only 45 games over two seasons with 4 goals and 10 assists.

However, advocates are pushing for O’Ree’s Hall entry in the Builders category, focusing on his contributions as a mentor, role model, and advocate in growing hockey in communities previously overlooked by the sport.

According to the Hall,  the criteria for entry 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 those qualifications, supports say, because he has been an inspiration to a generation of young hockey players and hockey fans of color.

He has worked tirelessly as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador since 1998, traveling across the United States and Canada to visit youth hockey programs affiliated with the NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone” initiative.

O’Ree is also a revered figure to many of the NHL’s players, who seek him out for guidance and advice.

If admitted to the Hall, O’Ree would join the likes of Scotty Bowman, who won eight Stanley Cups coaching for the Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins; Bruins Owner Jeremy Jacobs;  legendary manager Conn Smythe;  and 1980 “Miracle on Ice” U.S. Olympic hockey Coach Herb Brooks.

The Hall’s Selection Committee is gearing up its decision-making process for the 2018 induction class.

Committee members have until April 15 to submit names of those who they think should be in the Hall of Fame. Those nominees will be debated and voted on during an Elections Meeting in June. The annual Hall of Fame induction occurs in November.

Individuals can weigh in on who they think should be nominated for the Hall in the Builders, Players and Referees/Linesmen categories through a process called public submissions.

The public submissions deadline is March 15. Here is a link on how the process works and you can make a submission.

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