Home / News / “Willie,” The Incredible Life Story of Trailblazer and Hockey Hall of Famer Willie O’Ree, Announced Distribution Deal With ESPN

“Willie,” The Incredible Life Story of Trailblazer and Hockey Hall of Famer Willie O’Ree, Announced Distribution Deal With ESPN

O'Ree InterviewBryant McBride and Laurence Mathieu-Leger, producers of the critically-acclaimed documentary “Willie,” today announced a partnership with ESPN to air the film this spring in celebration of Black History Month. The film will be available through the month of February on ESPN Streaming On Demand, and will have four airings on ESPN2, with a first TV broadcast on February 17th, 7:00pm ET. The following airings will take place on February 18th, 20th, and 24th.

The film won the following awards during its festival run:

  • Hot Docs Film Festival: Top 5 Audience Favorite
  • Downtown LA Film Festival: Best Sports Documentary
  • Middleburg Film Festival: Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature

The documentary contains never-before-seen home movie footage, original interviews, and first-person accounts from friends and family across North America. The film also features appearances by National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman, NHL legend Wayne Gretzky, Dean of the MIT School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences and expert on race and retrospective justice Dr. Melissa Nobles, NHL players Wayne Simmonds and Devante Smith-Pelly, National Women’s Hockey League player and first overall draft pick Kelsey Koelzer and the Prime Minister of Canada, the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with ESPN to share Willie’s story far and wide,” said Bryant McBride, “Willie” producer. “While Willie’s dedication to the sport of hockey and to helping others has helped so many already, our hope is that this partnership with ESPN will ensure that his work has generational impact across the sports world and beyond.”

“Willie O’Ree is a hockey pioneer who paved the way for the numerous players of diverse backgrounds who came to play the sport in the many years after his NHL debut,” said Kim Davis NHL Executive Vice President, Social Impact, Growth Initiatives & Legislative Affairs. “As we embark on Black History Month, we are thrilled to see that “Willie” will air across ESPN platforms to further highlight Willie’s vital efforts in hockey.”

Born in Fredericton, New Brunswick in 1935, O’Ree began his journey as the youngest of 13 children. A multi-sport athlete, his career path originally pointed toward professional baseball. But after experiencing segregation first-hand during a baseball tryout in the U.S. during the Jim Crow era, he reconsidered his options and returned to hockey.

Despite being blind in one eye from an injury he suffered in 1956 and kept secret, O’Ree made his NHL debut on January 18, 1958, playing for the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens in the fabled Montreal Forum. He would go on to play parts of two seasons in the NHL and more than 20 seasons of professional hockey.

A trailblazer who paved the way for the players of diverse ethnic backgrounds who have succeeded him in the subsequent 60 years, O’Ree was named NHL Diversity Ambassador in 1998. In the two decades since, he has helped establish 39 local grassroots hockey programs and inspired more than 120,000 boys and girls to play the game in its many forms. On November 12, 2018, having dedicated most of his life to hockey, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

About Jerry Milani

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Jerry Milani is a freelance writer and public relations executive living in Bloomfield, N.J. He has worked in P.R. for more than 25 years in college and conference sports media relations, two agencies and for the International Fight League, a team-based mixed martial arts league, and now is the PR manager for Wizard World, which runs pop culture and celebrity conventions across North America. Milani is also the play-by-play announcer for Caldwell University football and basketball broadcasts. He is a proud graduate of Fordham University and when not attending a Yankees, Rams or Cougars game can be reached at Jerry (at) JerryMilani (dot) com.

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