NHL’s first black player stops in DC on national tour

The Black Hockey History Tour bus, parked outside the Canadian Embassy, packs a rush of history and memorabilia, all honoring black players in the league.

As Willie O’Ree, the first black NHL player, walked through the bus lined with hockey pucks, skates and more, he called it a walk down memory lane.

“This was the sweater I wore when I was with the Bruins back in ’58, ’60, ’61,” O’Ree said, pointing out one of the items.

Many call O’Ree a pioneer who blazed a trail for young minority players.

“The first thing they say to me is, ‘Willie, I can’t imagine what you had to go through to make it possible for players like myself,'” he said.

Willie O’Ree, the first black player in the NHL, with one of the sweaters he wore as a member of the Boston Bruins. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)
The bus honors black hockey history. It’s parked outside the Canadian Embassy on Monday and Tuesday. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)
Kwame Mason, the content creator and curator of the museum, grew up playing hockey at a time when not many players looked like him. He hopes the tour will inspire diversity and inclusion. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)
The sweaters of Joel Ward, Mike Marson and Devante Smith-Pelly, three black former Washington Capitals players. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)
The bus honors black pioneers in hockey. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)
A sign honors all the black Capitals. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)
Willie O’Ree retired in the 1970s; when he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018, a bobblehead was made in his honor. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)
The mobile museum honors the diversity of the game. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)
The bus honors black pioneers in hockey. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)
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Kwame Mason, the content creator and curator of the museum, grew up playing hockey at a time when not many players looked like him. He hopes the tour will inspire diversity and inclusion.

“If we can show our history to young kids of color, it may inspire them to get involved in the game,” Mason said.

He’s also focused on breaking down stigmas. “I think if the game becomes more welcoming, I’d be a happy man,” he added.

O’Ree also hopes to inspire young kids who don’t think hockey is for them: “These boys and girls can do anything they set their minds to. They just have to believe in themselves.”

The museum is on a tour of 14 NHL cities. It will be open to the public at the Canadian Embassy, 501 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Monday and Tuesday, from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

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