Willie O’Ree

The story of the first black player in the NHL

by Nicole Mortillaro

"It doesn't matter what colour he is, as long as he can play." -- Boston Bruins coach Milt Schmidt

Willie O'Ree quietly made NHL history at the Montreal Forum on January 18, 1958, when he became the first black player to take to the ice. In the dressing room before the game, his Boston Bruins teammates told him not to worry. If any one of the Montreal players said anything to him, they'd have his back.

There was a round of applause when O'Ree stepped onto the ice, and newspapers ran the story. The colour barrier in the NHL had been broken, yet it would be sixteen years before the next black player, Mike Marson (also a Canadian), was drafted. Four decades later, the NHL pulled O'Ree out of retirement to honour his achievement and make him an ambassador for the NHL's "Hockey is for Everyone" program to encourage kids from all backgrounds to play hockey.

This new book by Nicole Mortillaro traces the early life of O'Ree in Fredericton, New Brunswick, his journey to the NHL, highlights from his hockey career, and his work encouraging diversity in the NHL.

Fry reading level - 4.9

About the Author

NICOLE MORTILLARO is the author of several hockey books for children, including the Recordbooks Something to Prove and Jarome Iginla. She lives in Richmond Hill, Ontario.


"Willie O'Ree is well-researched. [Mortillaro has made Willie O'Ree's story an engrossing one. Her writing style is easy to read and suitable for young readers." Highly Recommended.
Thomas F. Chambers, CM: Canadian Review of Materials
Featured as a "Book of Interest" in The Seniors' Advocate
Seniors Advocate
[Mortillaro does paint clear pictures of the sports history and significance, especially in Canada, as well as the racial hostility that ORee braved through much of his playing career.
John Peters, Booklist


2013-14 Red Cedar (Non Fiction) Award
Best Books for Kids & Teens Selection (Canadian Children's Book Centre)
One of the Year's Best for 2013 -- Resource Links

Subjects (BISAC)


Shopping Cart
Scroll to Top