TORONTO – Angela James is excited to have company.
James, the first black woman inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, will be joined in Toronto’s hockey shrine Monday night by Willie O’Ree, the National Hockey League’s first black player, and Jayna Hefford, the commissioner of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and, like James, a former high-scoring player for Canada’s national teams.
Hefford becomes the sixth woman to enter the Hall, further answering the question James asked in her 2010 induction speech: “Who is next?”
“I think we’re finally almost up to a full table,” James said Sunday after skating in the Hall of Fame induction weekend’s Legends Game. “After the inductions and stuff, we can sit around and reminisce and talk about things just like the guys can. The more women there are, the better memories and times we can share together.”
James, who was regarded as Canada’s female Wayne Gretzky during her heyday, is equally proud about O’Ree getting into the Hall, becoming its third black inductee, joining herself and former Edmonton Oilers goaltending great Grant Fuhr.
“All three of my kids wrote projects about Willie and I know my oldest son sent a tremendous letter in support of inducting Willie and I know for sure it went to the (Hockey Hall of Fame selection) panel,” James said. “It was a long time coming. He was a trailblazer back then and he’s a trailblazer now.”
O’Ree continues to make hockey history with his induction as the first person of color to enter the Hall as a Builder, a category reserved for coaches, general managers, broadcasters and others who are regarded as pillars of the game.
O’Ree is credited with growing the game and creating a new generation of players and fans through his work as the NHL’s diversity ambassador and the “Hockey is for Everyone” program.
ORee played in 44 NHL games following his January 18, 1958 debut with the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens in Montreal. Despite the brevity of his NHL career – he had a lengthy and prolific minor league career that lasted until 1978-79 – he’s earned the respect of NHL players.
“He’s what a builder is right out of the gate – you couldn’t make a better description of a builder,” said Fuhr, who became the Hall’s first black inductee in 2003. “When you see another person of color playing it gives you that thought that you can possibly play. It opens up a big door.”,.
O’Ree and Hefford enter the Hall Monday with New Jersey Devils goaltending legend Martin Brodeur, former Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers sniper Martin St. Louis, Russian hockey star Alexander Yakushev, and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
The 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony will broadcast live on TSN2 in Canada and NHL Network in the United States.
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