By Staff

BOSTON (CBS) — Last year, the Boston Bruins postponed the jersey retirement ceremony of Willie O’Ree until 2022, in part so that the ceremony would take place “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 fans will indeed be in attendance for the ceremony to retire number 22 on Jan. 18. But unfortunately, O’Ree himself will not be present.

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Because of the risks associated with the ongoing pandemic, the 86-year-old O’Ree has decided to remain in California and participate virtually during the ceremony.

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“While my family and I looked forward to participating in the ceremonies in-person, the long travel and associated risks that come along with a cross-country trip have led us to make the difficult decision to participate virtually,” O’Ree said in a statement released by the team. “I want to thank the Bruins organization for their support and understanding, and I remain incredibly honored that they have chosen to retire my number. I would also like to express my sincere appreciation to the fans for their support throughout the years. I am excited to connect with everyone remotely, from my home in San Diego, on January 18.”

O’Ree became the first Black player in the NHL in 1958, debuting with the Bruins. He played just 45 games for the NHL, but his impact on breaking the NHL’s color barrier led to him being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018. In 2021, he was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal, “in recognition of his extraordinary contributions and commitment to hockey, inclusion, and recreational opportunity.”

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O’Ree’s ceremony will begin at 7 p.m. on Jan. 18, with the Bruins’ game against the Hurricanes set to begin at 7:20 p.m. Staff