Flyers, Penguins agree to help honor O’Ree’s Black pioneer legacy

Willie O'Ree (center) should receive national recognition for his play as a Black pioneer player and his work as a goodwill ambassador. (Photo by NHL)
      It isn’t too often the Flyers and Penguins can agree on anything.
      When the two teams get together to play a hockey game, pundits call it everything from the Battle of Pennsylvania to the Keystone Kollision.
      Philly fans love to boo Sidney Crosby; Pitt fans like to remind their cross-state counterparts that the Stanley Cup scoreboard reads: Penguins 5, Flyers 2.
      But when it comes to the real-life, important stuff, the two teams drop their gloves in a good way.
      For instance, the collaboration they reached the other day when both teams urged all the members of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation, both Republicans and Democrats, to support the bipartisan Willie O’Ree Gold Medal Act.
      According to a press release, “since the American Revolution, Congress has commissioned gold medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. O’Ree, 85, made his National Hockey League debut in 1958 as a player for the Boston Bruins. He is often referred to as the “Jackie Robinson of ice hockey” and was the first Black player in the NHL.’’
      O’Ree has been a goodwill ambassador for hockey over decades and numerous trips to Philadelphia have been included on his itinerary.
      Finally, all that productive effort by O’Ree is about to be recognized.
      The Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act was introduced on Feb. 25 in recognition of “his extraordinary contributions and commitment to hockey, inclusion, and recreational opportunity.’’
      The bipartisan legislation was introduced earlier this year by Senators Stabenow (D-MI) and Scott (R-SC) and Representatives Emmer (R-MN), Quigley (D-IL), Higgins (D-NY), and Katko (R-NY).
      Even hockey fans can get involved. They can voice their support by posting to social media using #WillieForTheGold.
Valerie Camillo, Flyers president of business operations, and Dave Morehouse, CEO and president of the Penguins, sent a letter to Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation urging their support of the act.
      The Camillo-Morehouse letter noted “O’Ree was the first Black player to compete in the National Hockey League.. A multi-sport athlete,. . .Mr. O’Ree once intended to play professional baseball. After he experienced segregation first-hand during a tryout in the Jim Crow era, he turned to professional hockey. Despite being blind in one eye from an injury he suffered while playing amateur hockey in the 1955-56 season, he made his NHL debut in 1958 playing for the Boston Bruins. O’Ree would go on to play more than 20 seasons of professional hockey and 45 games in the NHL from 1958-61.
      “In 1998, O’Ree was named the NHL’s first-ever Diversity Ambassador. In this role, O’Ree helped develop the ‘Hockey is for Everyone’ youth organizations, which offer minority and underserved children the opportunity to play hockey, build character, and develop important life skills. Hockey is for Everyone programs have served more than 130,000 boys and girls at over 26 programs across 40 locations in North America.
      “Mr. O’Ree’s countless visits to schools, community centers, and hockey rinks across the country have changed many young lives for the better, and his service provides an example for all Americans and residents of Pennsylvania to follow. In November 2018, Mr. O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in recognition of his efforts to grow the game – efforts that continue today, as O’Ree continues to promote diversity and access in the sport at 85 years old.
      “He is more than deserving of this honor for his trailblazing career and his decades of service dedicated to creating greater opportunities for all young people.’’
      That’s a great job by the Flyers and Penguins. Gentlemen, you can now resume your wonderful rivalry.
      >Changes of scenery benefitted both Schenn brothers
      During their last days with the Flyers, both Brayden and Luke Schenn seemed to fall into disfavor with everybody – from management to coaches to fans to media. Trades were inevitable.
      But watching Game 6 of the Lightning-Islanders series the other night, it dawned on me that both brothers have not only won a Stanley Cup ring since leaving Philly – Brayden with the Blues and Luke with the Lightning – but they have played instrumental roles with their teams.
      Brayden, a forward, has become a key performer on the Blues under coach Craig Berube while Luke, a defenseman, appears to have found a home in Florida. He was scheduled to play in Game 7 against the Isles on Friday night in Tampa.
      No one is faulting the Flyers for making their decisions to trade Brayden and Luke.
      Philadelphia did fine in the Brayden Schenn deal, securing the first-round draft picks (2017, 2018) they used to select forwards Morgan Frost and Joel Farabee, who led the Flyers in goals this past season at age 21.
      Also, the Flyers picked up a third-round pick in the Luke Schenn deal with Los Angeles, which they used to draft promising forward Carsen Twarynski
      So everyone seems OK with how things turned out. And good for the Schenn brothers, who proved just a change of scenery was all they needed to reach their potential.
About Wayne Fish 1414 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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