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Willie O’Ree, NHL’s 1st black player, gets Hall of Fame call

Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first black player, headlined Tuesday’s unveiling of this year’s Hockey Hall of Fame inductees.

The 82-year-old Fredericton native had been eligible for induction since 1962.

O’Ree broke into the league as a right-winger in 1958 and went on to play 45 NHL regular-season games for the Boston Bruins.

Current NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will also be inducted as a builder in November.

The player inductees include goalie Martin Brodeur, who won an NHL-high 691 regular-season games, winger Martin St. Louis, longtime Canadian national women’s team forward Jayna Hefford and former Soviet Union forward Alexander Yakushev.

O’Ree, who continues to make an impact on the sport, had the 60th anniversary of his first NHL game recognized by the Bruins on Jan. 18 while the league announced the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award in April.

He will be the third black player in the Hall of Fame, joining Edmonton Oilers goalie Grant Fuhr and Canadian women’s national team captain Angela James.

Brodeur, who got the nod in his first year of eligibility, is a three-time Stanley Cup winner, a four-time Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL’s top netminder, and a five-time winner of the Jennings Trophy for the fewest goals allowed in a season.

The Montreal native, who retired in 2015, is also the NHL’s all-time leader in shutouts with 125. Brodeur, 46, played 1,259 regular-season games with the New Jersey Devils before a brief seven-game stint with the St. Louis Blues.

“You don’t dream to be in the Hall of Fame,” Brodeur told TSN. “You dream to play one game in the NHL and that was my goal when I got drafted [20th overall by the Devils] in 1990. I was fortunate to be in New Jersey at the right time.”

Brodeur noted his hockey career meant the world to his father, Denis, one of Canada’s most successful sports photographers who died in 2013.

2-time Olympic champion

“[For me] to be part of the Hall of Fame is something he would have been reallly excited to be around. He would have been the first call I made, for sure [when I received the induction call].”

Brodeur also won a pair of Olympic gold medals with Canada in 2002 and 2010.

“I owe a lot to Hockey Canada,” he said, “for them to allow me to play in the world championships, World Cups and, obviously, four Olympics. These are experiences that really helped in my career.”

Since Bettman was named commissioner in 1993, the NHL has grown to 31 teams with some $5 billion US in annual revenue.

St. Louis went from not being drafted to a 17-year NHL career that included 1,134 regular-season games and 1,033 points. A five-time all-star, St. Louis won the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2003-04 and was on Canada’s men’s Olympic team that won gold in 2014. He won the NHL’s Hart Trophy as league MVP in 2004.

A giant in the women’s game, Hefford won four Olympic gold medals for Canada.

Yakushev played for Russia at the 1972 Summit Series against Canada. He won Olympic gold in 1972 and 1976.