SvoNotes: Impact of O’Ree’s life of accomplishments felt in Columbus

While COVID worries meant O’Ree could not be in the building, he delivered a speech that was shown on the arena video board and watched the event on video along with his wife Deljeet and daughter Chandra. In addition, former Bruins player Anson Carter and members of SCORE Boston hockey — a club that supports Hockey is for Everyone initiatives in Boston — were the ones to raise the number to the rafters.  

There was Columbus representation at the event as well, as Columbus Ice Hockey Club executive director John Haferman was there to see his friend’s number put in the rafters. 

“It’s a huge moment in history, and it was really, really cool,” said Haferman, who has welcomed O’Ree to Columbus numerous times over the past few years. “They did live stream him in and as soon as you saw him and his wife and his daughter, you were like, ‘Oh my goodness.’ But it was an extremely necessary thing to be done, and they finally did it.” 

O’Ree, 86, played in two games in the 1958 season, mostly spending the year with the Quebec Aces of the QHL. He returned to the Bruins in 1960-61 and played in 43 games that campaign, posting four goals and 10 assists for 14 points. 

From there, he never made it back to the NHL but spent most of his career in the minor league Western Hockey League, totaling 328 goals and 639 points in 785 games for teams based in Los Angeles and San Diego. 

He grew up rooting for Montreal as a kid in Fredericton, New Brunswick, but his debut game came against the Canadiens, a 3-0 win for a Bruins team that at the time might or might not have known the history it was making. 

“On Jan. 18, 1958, when the Bruins called me up to make my NHL debut in a game against the Canadiens, I knew my heart would be with the Bruins forever,” O’Ree said as part of the pregame number retirement ceremony. “I was very happy when we beat Montreal 3-0 that evening. I will never forget how my teammates in the Bruins locker room accepted me as one of their own. This was a time when some of the fans and opposing players were not ready to see a black man in the NHL.” 

Since 1998, O’Ree has been the NHL’s diversity ambassador, while also putting together an annual skills weekend each year that brings together players from Hockey is for Everyone clubs around the country and having his name on the O’Ree Community Hero Award given out by the league each season. He’s dedicated the past few decades of his life to growing the game as only he can. 

“People asked me if there was a significance to the No. 22,” he said. “At that time, there was not. It was a number that was presented to me. But looking back, I realize I was 22 years old when I reached my goal of playing in the National Hockey League. I think of the excitement I felt skating on the ice. Now I think about the next generation of hockey players who are now getting ready to make their debut and the excitement they must feel.” 

That’s where Haferman sees the potential for even more growth — and knows up close the difficulty of trying to slowly but surely bring about change. His work in the Columbus community with the CIHC as well as his role as director of hockey for the city of Columbus Recreation and Parks Department has helped introduce thousands of kids to the game who otherwise likely wouldn’t be able to participate, and he sees the barriers to entry that remain for the sport. 

That point also was driven home as Haferman attended a summit hosted by the Carnegie Initiative on Tuesday in Boston. Named after pioneering player Herb Carnegie, the initiative strives to improve diversity and inclusion in the sport of hockey, and the convention featured panels on the issues facing disabled hockey, indigenous hockey, LGBTQ+ players and more. 

“I think probably the biggest disappointment is 64 years ago was the anniversary (of O’Ree’s debut), and you’re thinking, 64 years later, why are there so many similar stories?” Haferman said. 

But progress is being made, and Haferman was able to talk to Kim Davis, the NHL’s senior executive vice president for social impact and growth initiatives, about what he sees on the ground. Haferman also was able to attend the game with Spencer Watson, the son of CIHC president Mike Watson and a club hockey player at Dartmouth, as well as former CIHC player Molly Brumfield, who went on to play in college. 

It made for a special evening for those in attendance, and also for O’Ree, who had a chance to pause and reflect on the history being celebrated. 

“This is a very special moment for my entire family,” O’Ree said. “For the Bruins fans, I am honored to have had the pleasure of playing before you. Thank you for your tremendous love and support. This is an unforgettable day. I am overwhelmed and thrilled to be a part of the Bruins forever.” 

Angle’s ‘Michigan’ Goal 

In case you missed it on Tuesday night, the Cleveland Monsters played their first home game in more than a month, and Blue Jackets prospect Tyler Angle made it a memorable occasion for the organization’s top farm team. 

The seventh-round draft pick in the 2019 draft scored a lacrosse-style ‘Michigan’ goal, a scoop and score that made the highlight reels in a loss against Grand Rapids. 

Tweet from @monstershockey: 🔥🔥 @tyler_angle7 bringing a little lacrosse to the ice Your move @SportsCenter #SCTop10

To this point, I believe it’s the first-ever ‘Michigan’ move — so named because it burst on the scene when University of Michigan forward Mike Legg scored on the move during an NCAA tournament game in 1996 — scored in a game by a member of the Jackets organization. 

But it’s also a move you’re starting to see take place all across the game. Andrei Svechnikov brought it to the NHL last season, scoring twice, and then there’s the famous ‘Dishigan’ goal scored earlier this year when Anaheim’s Trevor Zegras flipped the puck over the net lacrosse-style for Sonny Milano to bat out of the air for a goal. 

Ironically, Ohio right now seems to be ground zero for the Michigan goal as well. Bowling Green’s Adam Pitters pulled it off during a game a few weeks ago, while Toledo Walleye forward Brandon Hawkins just did it in an ECHL game over the weekend. 

So it begs the question — are we due for a CBJ player to do it in a game? I asked the team’s Mr. Michigan himself, former Wolverine Zach Werenski, if he would ever give it a try. 

“I tried it at practice Monday, to be honest,” he said, “but I didn’t get it on my stick. It’s one of those things where I’m not behind the net often. I think if I was back there more often, I would try it. I don’t know if I have the skill set to pull it off, but I think we’re going to see more and more of it.” 

I think Zach is right on that last point. It’s fascinating to me how the move has gone from something almost impossibly rare — other than minor leaguer Bill Armstrong, who taught Legg the move, you rarely saw anyone try it in the two decades after Legg’s famous score — to something that is starting to show up on highlight shows on nearly a nightly basis. 

It speaks to a cultural shift in the game in a couple of ways. First, it used to be a lot harder in an NHL game to find space behind the net, and it’s also not hard to imagine what the reaction would have been in the old-school days for a player who tried it (he’d probably find a mitt in his face quicker than he could celebrate). 

We’re in an era now where not only is that type of creativity more encouraged, it’s celebrated. And because of that, more players practice it and have it as part of their repertoires — and in my book, anything that brings more skill to the game is a good thing. I’m also happy to report Werenski agrees, even if it means it’s another thing he has to be on the lookout for while playing his position. 

“I think it’s like the evolution of hockey,” he said. “Back in the day, no one would try to pull that off, and now you’re seeing it every night. It might be a little scary to think about what the future is gonna hold in terms of six or seven Connor McDavids running around the league. I don’t know if I can keep up for much longer, but it’s good for the game. 

“I think it’s gonna grow the game. Moves like that and plays like that being made, I think it just gets people talking and watching.” 

New Schedule Out 

In case you missed it, the NHL released its updated schedule yesterday afternoon, with all of the games postponed by COVID protocols having been rescheduled. 

For the Blue Jackets, that means a February schedule that previously had just three games now is pretty much full. It starts Feb. 8 — three days after the All-Star Game — when a game scheduled for April 28 at Washington will be moved up. Following that, four of the five road games postponed by COVID will be played, giving the team what will now be its longest road swing of the year. 

What many fans will likely be most interested in, though, are the rescheduled home games. Three contests for Nationwide Arena now have switched days, including two that were postponed — the Dec. 20 game vs. Buffalo has been moved to Feb. 20, the Dec. 27 game vs. Toronto is now Feb. 22, and the April 29 game vs. Tampa Bay moves to April 28. 

That is one of three games on the schedule later in the season that has moved. The other two are the April 12 game at Pittsburgh, which will now be April 29, while the Feb. 8 game at Washington was originally set for April 28. 

Check out yesterday’s announcement for the full slate.