ST. LOUIS – The NHL is celebrating Black History Month with a traveling exhibit. It’s making four stops in St. Louis this All-Star Weekend.
The exhibit tells the story of NHL diversity and Hockey is for Everyone ambassador Willie O’Ree, the first African-American to play in the NHL. He broke the league’s color barrier suiting up for the Boston Bruins in 1958.
“I met Willie probably 20 years ago,” said former Blues player Jamal Mayers. “I didn’t know the details of his story as they came about but I have certainly known him for a long time and learned a lot from him. He brings a certain passion and energy that is infectious.”
The Black Hockey History Tour mobile museum will be in Kiener Plaza at Winterfest from noon until 8 p.m. Saturday. On Sunday, it’ll be located at the Missouri History Museum from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s free to the public.
“The whole idea of role models is very important and a truck like this is great for minority kids to come in and check out because they can see themselves on these walls and they can realize that there is a long-standing history of black athletes in the game of hockey and they will have that feeling of what they can do and if they have done it to maybe possibly I can do it too,” said Kwame Mason, museum curator.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman calls O’Ree the “Jackie Robinson of hockey” and that he managed to do all despite being blind in one eye.
“He had a 20-year professional career, not all of it in the NHL. But more importantly than what he did on the ice was the inspiration he’s been to 150,000 young people over the years that he’s worked for us,” Bettman said.
On Friday, the mobile museum made one of its four stops at the Boys and Girls Teen Center in Ferguson.
Kim Davis, the NHL’s executive vice president of social impact, growth initiatives, and legislative affairs, said the goal behind the museum is to “educate, engage, and inspire.”
“We are taking this into communities where people can learn about the history of blacks in the sport of hockey,” she said. “…And the idea is for all audiences to understand the history of blacks in the sport of hockey.”