Penguins, O’Ree Connect For Black Youth Hockey Program

NHL 2020-21

The Pittsburgh Penguins are known for their accomplishments on the ice. The black and yellow have seen a number of hall-of-famers don the Penguins’ sweater, with present-day Penguins and future legends adding to the lore of Pittsburgh hockey.

Known for their championships and success, the Penguins are one of the most consistent teams in the NHL. Having not missed the playoffs since 2006, the Penguins have sprinkled three Stanley Cup victories since that span and have been contenders for the majority of their time in the league.

Despite all of their on-ice success, the Penguins have had a ton of success away from the rink as well. Their community involvement is top-notch and the Penguins added another initiative recently.

It was announced this past week that the Penguins were launching the Willie O’Ree Academy, a free initiative designed to help develop experienced Black youth hockey players in the community.

The cause was named after O’Ree, who was the first Black player in the NHL.

“I was so excited and thrilled that the Willie O’Ree Academy was being developed and ultimately now being launched,” O’Ree said. “The academy will continue the legacy I have worked so hard to create and maintain in this space.”

The academy begins on June 15 and is open to boys and girls ages 10 to 18. It starts with a nine-week training program for Black players who are already skating in the Pittsburgh Amateur Hockey League as well as the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League.

Training sessions (both on and off-ice) will be held at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, where the Penguins practice. Instructors include former NHL players such as Trevor Daley, who is also the Penguins’ hockey operations adviser.

Jim Britt, executive director of the Penguins Foundation said that he hopes the O’Ree academy will provide participants a safe space for them to bond about the sport and reach their hockey goals.

Britt also said the Penguins felt strongly about naming the academy after O’Ree to honor his legacy.

O’Ree made history when he debuted with the Boston Bruins in 1958 during a game against the Montreal Canadiens. He played 45 NHL games over two seasons, all with Boston. O’Ree would finish his career in the minor leagues until 1979.

O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018 and is the NHL’s diversity ambassador.

Britt mentioned that they hope Pittsburgh can be the starting point for the academy and they can help roll out a plan to every other NHL market, putting O’Ree’s name on it.

The Penguins prepare for another week of NHL action, but their moves made off the ice are building blocks for the future of the NHL. It will be interesting to see how the O’Ree academy impacts the NHL in years to come.

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