ORLANDO, Fla. — In celebration of Black History Month, the Orlando Solar Bears will honor the legacy of Hockey Hall of Famer Willie O’Ree and his impact on the sport of ice hockey at home games in the month of February, starting when they take the ice at the AdventHealth Rink at Amway Center for pre-game warm-ups during their match against the Florida Everblades on Saturday, Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. wearing matching jerseys featuring O’Ree’s number 22.
Through working with Parramore Kidz Zone, the Solar Bears will also host families from Parramore, one of Orlando’s oldest and historically Black neighborhoods, the opportunity to experience live hockey for the first time.
O’Ree, 85, made his National Hockey League debut on January 18, 1958 for the Boston Bruins, becoming the first Black player in NHL history - a moment that has paved the way for future players of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Since 1998, O’Ree has been the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, a role in which he has helped the NHL's Hockey is for Everyone initiative introduce more than 120,000 boys and girls of diverse backgrounds to unique hockey experiences. Over the past decade, O'Ree has traveled thousands of miles across North America helping to establish 26 local grassroots hockey programs, all geared towards serving economically disadvantaged youth. While advocating strongly that “Hockey is for Everyone,” O'Ree stresses the importance of essential life skills, education, and the core values of hockey, which are: commitment, perseverance, and teamwork.
Warm-up jerseys worn by the Solar Bears will be auctioned off, with proceeds benefiting Parramore Kidz Zone. Fans can now visit orlandosolarbearshockey.com/willie to pre-register for the jersey auction, which will open on Saturday, Feb. 20 at 6 p.m. and run through Wednesday, March 3 at 8 p.m.
In addition to promoting “Willie,” a documentary film that chronicles O'Ree’s life, the Solar Bears will also showcase segments from “‘Willie’ — Creating Constructive Conversations About Race,” a webinar session presented by Prodigy Search, featuring former NHL player and current NBC hockey analyst Anson Carter and current NHL player Wayne Simmonds, during the team’s upcoming home games.
In an effort to share Willie O’Ree’s story more broadly and celebrate the 63rd anniversary of his NHL debut, “Willie” is currently being syndicated across 90 million households and approximately 160 local broadcast stations in partnership with Gray Television in the United States. The film is available to stream on NBC’s Peacock and Crackle in the United States. The film is also being distributed internationally to more than 50 nations over the next two years in partnership with the U.S. State Department’s American Film Showcase and Global Affairs Canada. Additional educational materials can be found at lessonsfromwillie.com.
About Parramore Kidz Zone
The mission of Parramore Kidz Zone (PKZ) is to level the playing field for Parramore’s children, equipping them to become successful, healthy, well-educated adults. Parramore Kidz Zone aims to reduce juvenile crime, teen pregnancy, and high school drop-out rates in Orlando’s highest poverty neighborhood, and ultimately replicate this model in other Orlando neighborhoods. PKZ is achieving this by investing in things that make a difference in children’s lives – such as quality early childhood education, after school programs, programs that build family economic success, youth development programs for teenagers, access to health care, mentoring, tutoring, college access assistance and more. Visit cityoforlando.net/pkz for more information.
The Solar Bears conclude their seven-game road trip when they face the Florida Everblades at Hertz Arena on Friday, Feb. 19 at 7:30 p.m. The Solar Bears are back on home ice to host the Florida Everblades at the AdventHealth Rink at Amway Center on Saturday, Feb. 20 at 7 p.m.
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About the Orlando Solar Bears:
The Orlando Solar Bears are the proud affiliate of the NHL’s Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning and members of the ECHL, the premier “AA” hockey league in North America. In eight seasons of operation, the team has qualified for the Kelly Cup Playoffs five times. The Solar Bears are owned and operated by the Orlando Magic and the DeVos Family, and play at the AdventHealth Rink at Amway Center, the 2012 Street and Smith’s Sports Business Journal Sports Facility of the Year.
Officially licensed Orlando Solar Bears replica team jerseys, apparel, and headwear can be purchased at orlandosolarbearshockey.com/shop.