2021 has been a strong year for Minnesota Hockey: all five of our Division-1 men’s hockey teams made the NCAA Ice Hockey Tournament, three advanced to the Frozen Four and the Sixth District’s own St. Cloud State University Huskies made it to the final.
For many Minnesotans, hockey is life. It’s the first sport we learn and one we play long into adulthood. Hockey has been a special part of my life for as long as I can remember, from when I started playing in grade school, to today as a sport I can share with my kids.
The beauty of the game, especially in our state where a frozen lake is a perfect substitute for a pricey rink, is its inclusivity. Hockey brings our community together on the ice. But it hasn’t always been that way. Until more recently than you might think, hockey was a sport divided along racial lines.
That’s why I’m proud to announce the re-introduction of the Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act. This legislation officially recognizes the legacy of Willie O’Ree, the first black player in the National Hockey League.
In 1958, O’Ree made history after being called up from the minors to play for the Boston Bruins. But this transition wasn’t easy: he endured racism, bigotry, and prejudice from fellow players and fans alike. O’Ree rose above this adversity to play more than twenty-four seasons in the NHL and minor leagues.
Following his professional hockey career, he became the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, where he established the Hockey Is for Everyone initiative to offer marginalized and disadvantaged children an opportunity to play hockey, create community, and develop important life skills.
The Congressional Gold Medal—which has been awarded to leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jackie Robinson—is the highest honor that Congress can bestow. Sharing this distinguished recognition of Willie O’Ree will not only highlight his significant contribution to the sport of hockey but will ensure our beloved pastime will remain inclusive to everyone who decides to put on a pair of skates.