Bruins postpone tribute to black NHL pioneer O'Ree to 2022

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A ceremony to retire the Boston Bruins No. 22 jersey of Willie O'Ree, the NHL's first black player, was delayed from next Thursday until 2022 with hopes spectators would be allowed to attend instead of being banned due to Covid-19 safety regulations, the team announced Thursday

Willie O'Ree, the first black player in the National Hockey League, will have his Boston Bruins jersey retirement ceremony postponed to next year with hopes he and fans can attend.

The Bruins announced the postponement on Thursday, moving the ceremony from next Thursday to January 18, 2022, after consulting with the league.

The new date will mark the 64th anniversary of O'Ree making history as the NHL's first black player when he took the ice for the Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens.

The Bruins said last month they would retire O'Ree's jersey number, 22, at a ceremony before the February 18 home game against New Jersey at TD Garden.

But because of Covid-19 safety protocols and restrictions, the ceremony likely would have been staged without spectators allowed in the arena. The shift allows for a more elaborate event and fans to be in attendance.

"We hope and expect the change will enable us all to commemorate this moment in a way that matches the magnitude of Willie's impact -- in front of a TD Garden crowd packed with passionate Bruins fans, who can express their admiration and appreciation for Willie and create the meaningful moment he has earned throughout his incredible career," the NHL said in a statement.

O'Ree, inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018, will be the 12th player to have his number retired by the Bruins.

He played 45 NHL games during two seasons with the Bruins (1957-58 and 1960-61) despite being blind in his right eye from an injury suffered in junior hockey.