Bill Pristanski attended the Hockey of Hall of Fame this past weekend. The NHL has been a client since 1996.
One of the highlights for Pristanski was attending the dinner on Sunday evening to honour Willie O’Ree, who became the first black man to play in the NHL on January 18, 1958. Willie was inducted into the Hall of Fame in the Builder category at the ceremony on Monday.
The magnitude of Willie O’Ree’s hockey career as a black player cannot be underestimated. The second black player to join the NHL was Mike Marson, and that did not take place until the 1974-75 season with the Washington Capitals. O’Ree’s NHL career, albeit brief, opened the door for other players of various races to dream about NHL careers.
While working for a San Diego hotel in 1998, the NHL hired Willie as the Director of Youth Development for its diversity task force. The NHL/USA Hockey Diversity Task Force is a non-profit program that encourages minority youngsters to play hockey. The results are palpable. And in addition, NHL players are now required to enroll in a pre-season diversity training seminar, and race-based verbal abuse is punished through suspensions and fines.