By Fred Liggett
The Missouri Mavericks continue to make history for the franchise each time they take the ice for an ECHL game. While the current edition of the Mavericks hockey team tries to put another winning note down in team history, the players and coaches saw a lot of hockey history last weekend.
The Mavericks were lucky enough to play host to 81-year-old Willie O' Ree who is better known as the "Jackie Robinson" of hockey. O' Ree broke the color barrier back in January of 1958 when he signed with Boston. Later in his career in 1962, O'Ree got the chance to meet baseball's Jackie Robinson. The visit occurred while O' Ree was playing for the LA Blades.
O' Ree remains busy these days traveling around the country promoting the sport of hockey with today's youth. When he is asked, he will tell his story, too. This is his second visit to Kansas City. The first one came in 2004 when he came to the Negro Leagues Museum for an event.
Mavericks rookie Darren Nowick stated that "it was unbelievable" to meet history in person rather than reading about it in a book. Many Mavericks players were quick to grab a camera to snap a photo with Mr. O'Ree. Mavericks staff treated Mr. O'Ree to a suite at a Mavs game, a game the Mavericks won over the Quad City Mallards.
Before the game O’Ree was asked his thoughts on the Mavericks giving him the chance to share his story with the team. "I am very impressed with the Mavericks. I liked what I saw in practice too," O' Ree said. He added that he "was thrilled to be asked to come" and "Kansas City is an awesome city."
At a press conference, O'Ree was asked to rate hockey in Kansas City compared to other places in the US. O'Ree finds the Kansas City area “compeititive." The team he sees the most is in San Diego. The San Diego Gulls of the AHL O'Ree says play a type of game similar to the Mavericks.
Before closing, O'Ree commented on the growth of the sport from his playing days. "I knew hockey would advance from just six teams in 1967. Hockey is growing in all the states especially down south,” O’Ree said. "It says a lot that hockey is going into Las Vegas at a beautiful new arena. Hockey is on the move and more kids are playing the sport than ever before. Kids are setting goals to play pro hockey now and working hard to achieve it."
The 2017 Mavericks following the weekend visit with O'Ree enjoyed hearing about the history of their favorite sport and that was another achievement for them.