Black NHL pioneer set to inspire new generation

The Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation and the Philadelphia Flyers will bring more than 100 students, coaches and directors from the Hockey is for Everyone programs across North America to Philadelphia for the 2018 NHL Willie O’Ree Skills Weekend.

The gathering from Friday to Sunday is part of the celebrations for the National Hockey League’s Hockey is for Everyone Month.

These student-athletes come from the 17 NHL-affiliated Hockey is for Everyone programs. The events will take place at the National Libery Museum, the National Constitution Center, the University of Pennsylvania’s Class of ‘23 skating arena and the Scanlon Ice Rink.

O’Ree, who was born in Fredericton, Canada, broke the color line in the NHL 60 years ago with the Boston Bruins. He only played 45 games in NHL but had four goals and 10 assists for 14 points.

After his short stint in the NHL that spanned 1957 and 1958, O’Ree went on to play in other U.S. and Canadian leagues such as the Eastern Professional Hockey League, Western Hockey League, American Hockey League and Pacific Hockey League.

It was not until 1974 that another Black skater got to play in the NHL. That year fellow Canadian Mike Marson was drafted by the Washington Capitals and spent five seasons in the league.

O’Ree, 82, intends to inspire the youngsters as he shares his experiences as a pioneer in professional hockey over the weekend.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without Willie O’Ree’s persistence and courage,” Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds, an honorary co-chair of the weekend gathering and a member of the Snider Hockey board of directors, said in a statement.

“Willie is not only a hero to me in hockey, but a hero in life,” added the 29-year-old NHL player who also is from Canada.

“We are fortunate to welcome Willie O’Ree to Philadelphia and honor him for changing the great game of hockey forever,” Scott Tharp, the president of Snider Hockey, said in a statement.

“Having Willie join us in Philadelphia and share with our student-athletes his story is truly inspiring. He will have a lasting impact on the many student-athletes who visit Philadelphia for our Hockey is for Everyone celebration,” he added.

“These remarkable weekends with Willie O’Ree offer young players the opportunity to build new relationships, learn the life lessons hockey teaches so well and create lasting memories — on and off the ice,” said Kim Davis, an executive vice president with the NHL, said in a statement.

“Willie has devoted his life to bringing the game of hockey to kids of all backgrounds and ethnicities, and the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation exemplifies the reality that Hockey Is For Everyone,” Davis said. “Together, they will provide an unforgettable experience for these young people — continuing the Willie O’Ree Skills Weekend tradition that began in 2010.”

Most of the weekend activities will focus on the NHL’s Declaration of Principles, which includes acceptance, courage, perseverance, respect, humility, passion, integrity and teamwork.

The student-athletes will examine the lives of groundbreaking African Americans in American history by visiting the “Breaking Barriers” show at the National Constitution Center on Saturday. That day, they will also attend an ice hockey game between Duquesne and Drexel universities at the University of Pennsylvania ice rink at 3130 Walnut St.

At the rink, attendees will hear from Hockey Hall of Fame goalie Bernie Parent, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Flyers and one of the NHL’s 100 Best Players.

The activities on-ice include a skill development session, a skills competition and a scrimmage, which will be held at University of Pennsylvania and Scanlon ice rinks. The skill development session will be at the Scanlon Ice Rink at 1099 E Venango St. on Friday. The two other activities will take place at the other venue on Saturday and Sunday.

Ed Snider started Snider Hockey in 2005 as a personal commitment to teaching young people important life lessons. His youth hockey foundation aims to build lives and unite communities.

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