Willie O'Ree

Willie O’Ree tips his hat as he is honored prior to the first period of a game between the Bruins and Canadiens in 2018. The Bruins planned to retire O’Ree’s jersey next week, but instead will wait until next season. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

BOSTON — The Boston Bruins will wait to retire the number of pioneering Black hockey player Willie O’Ree until next year so that they can raise his No. 22 banner to the rafters with fans in the building.

The NHL said it asked the Bruins and O’Ree to postpone the ceremony until Jan. 18 – 64 years to the day that he became the league’s first Black player. It had been scheduled for next Thursday night before a game against the New Jersey Devils.

“We hope and expect the change will enable us all to commemorate this moment in a way that matches the magnitude of Willie’s impact,” the league said, “in front of a TD Garden crowd packed with passionate Bruins fans, who can express their admiration and appreciation for Willie and create the meaningful moment he has earned throughout his incredible career.”

Only five of the league’s 31 teams have allowed fans in the building so far this season, all at reduced capacity. Five others have announced plans to allow limited numbers soon, but the Bruins are not among them. Four teams are on pause because of COVID-19 protocols.

A Canadian who was legally blind in one eye after being struck by a puck in juniors, O’Ree broke the NHL’s color barrier when he took the ice for Boston against the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 18, 1958. It was more than a decade after Jackie Robinson integrated baseball, but still before the crosstown Red Sox fielded their first Black player.

O’Ree played two games for the Bruins that season and 43 more in 1960-’61 before he was traded to the Canadiens; he never made it back to the NHL. In all, he had four goals and 10 assists.

He has been working for the NHL as a diversity ambassador since 1998.

THE NHL is adding game-day rapid tests for players, team personnel and on-ice officials as part of a series of expanded safety protocols unveiled Thursday in the league’s latest bid to stem potential COVID-19 outbreaks.

Rapid tests will be initially made available to the league’s 24 U.S.-based teams and provide results within a half-hour to augment daily PCR testing already in place, which is similar to the protocols the NBA introduced this season. PCR tests are considered to be more accurate, but there’s a 12-24 hour turnaround on results.

The league says it is working with its seven Canadian-based teams to have a similar rapid-testing system in place based on availability.

Other expanded safety protocols include having all team meetings conducted virtually, removing the plexiglass surrounding the penalty box area, and recommend players not leave their homes except to attend practices, games or for essential activities. The directive also recommends other household members stay at home, and consider using grocery delivery services.

In addition, teams are asked to provide players and staff KN95 facemasks, which are considered more effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19.

The NHL is also launching a player tracking system to assist in contract tracing, and intends to use genomic sequencing on a case by case basis to determine specific strains of the coronavirus when there is a cluster of positive tests.

The added measures were approved by the league and NHL Players’ Association’s medical advisors, and will remain in place until at least the end of the month.

The development comes two days after Vegas Golden Knights forward Tomas Nosek tested positive but was not quarantined until after playing the first two periods of a 5-4 win over Anaheim. And it comes on the same day the league delayed the start of Edmonton’s game at Montreal by an hour to provide additional time to complete contact-tracing and test results after Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi was placed on the COVID-19 list.

THURSDAY’S GAMES

PANTHERS 5, LIGHTNING 2: Aaron Ekblad and Alex Wennberg each had a goal and an assist and Florida won at home.

Frank Vatrano, Carter Verhaeghe and Brett Connolly also scored, and Sergei Bobrovsky made 19 saves.

Braden Point scored twice for Tampa Bay, while Andrei Vasilevskiy made 24 saves. The Lighting had won six straight.

PENGUINS 4, ISLANDERS 3: Sidney Crosby scored the only goal of the shootout to lift visiting Pittsburgh to a comeback victory.

Casey DeSmith made 26 saves, including five in overtime, plus all three of the Islanders’ attempts in the shootout.

Mathew Barzal had given the Islanders a 3-2 late in regulation before Evgeni Malkin tied it with 18 seconds remaining.

JETS 5, SENATORS 1: Connor Hellebuyck made 41 saves and Paul Stastny, Dylan DeMelo and Blake Wheeler scored second-period goals to help Winnipeg win at home

Stastny, DeMelo and Wheeler scored after Hellebuyck stopped 18 shots in a scoreless first period. The Jets improved to 4-0 this season against Ottawa, with the teams set square off again Saturday night.

Mathieu Perreault and Neal Pionk also scored for Winnipeg. Josh Norris scored for Ottawa.

BLUE JACKETS 6, BLACKHAWKS 5: Boone Jenner, Jack Roslovic, Michael Del Zotto and Kevin Stenlund scored during a wild third period, and visiting Columbus stopped Chicago’s three-game winning streak.

Cam Atkinson set a franchise record with his 15th career short-handed goal as Columbus won for the third time in four games. Atkinson also had three assists and Roslovic scored twice.

OILERS 3, CANADIENS 0: Mike Smith made 38 saves in his second start of the season for his 40th career shutout as Edmonton won at Montreal.

Jujhar Khaira, Darnell Nurse and Tyson Barrie scored as the Oilers won the final three games of a four-game trip.

 

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