The “NHL Quotes” column is your go-to for daily hockey stories with quotes from your favourite players and staff.
In this edition of NHL Quotes, Willie O’Ree reflects on the Boston Bruins retiring his No. 22, Buffalo Sabres’ sixth-string goaltender Michael Houser writes a great underdog story and Winnipeg Jets rookie Cole Perfetti tallies his first NHL goal.
O’Ree, First Black Player in NHL History, Has No. 22 Retired by Bruins
On Tuesday, the Bruins raised O’Ree’s No. 22 to the rafters at TD Garden, exactly 64 years after becoming the first Black NHL player. He made his league debut with Boston against the Montreal Canadiens at the Montreal Forum on Jan. 18, 1958. He participated in his number retirement virtually from San Diego with his daughter, Chandra, and wife, Deljeet.
“To the Bruins fans, I am honoured to have had the pleasure of playing before you,” said O’Ree. “Thank you for your tremendous love and support. This is an unforgettable day. I am overwhelmed and thrilled to be a part of the Bruins forever. Thank you.”
O’Ree is an inspiration to so many in the hockey world for breaking boundaries and helping make the sport accessible to people of all backgrounds. Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as part of the Builders category in Nov. 2018, he helped start 39 grassroots hockey programs across North America as part of the Hockey is for Everyone initiative.
“This is just a memorable evening not just for myself, but for my family,” said O’Ree. “To have my number retired and hanging up in the rafters with so many other great hockey players that have played for the Bruins, it’s just amazing.”
His number retirement is just another step in honouring an outstanding legacy that has paved the way for so many others.
“Merely by stepping onto the ice at the Montreal Forum in a Boston Bruins sweater 64 years ago, Willie truly changed our game,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. “He has spent every day since not only living his life as a role model to be emulated and admired but working tirelessly to personally connect with and inspire thousands of children with his life story and life lessons our sport imparts.”
Houser Wins First NHL Game of Season, Sixth Goalie to Suit up for Sabres
The Sabres have four goaltenders injured or out right now, including Craig Anderson (month-to-month, upper-body), Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (week-to-week, lower-body), Malcolm Subban (month-to-month, upper-body) and Dustin Tokarski (week-to-week, COVID-19). That leaves Buffalo with its fifth and sixth goaltenders of the season, Aaron Dell and Houser. On Tuesday, Houser played his first NHL game of the season, and fifth of his career.
“Until you play so many games, [nerves are] always going to be there,” said Houser. “They were there all four of the games last year. You just kind of embrace them. You roll with it. Maybe not eat as much in the afternoon as I usually do, a little less appetite.”
Houser typically suits up for the Rochester Americans in the American Hockey League (AHL), where he has a .900 save percentage (SV%) in 11 games this season. He made the best of his latest NHL opportunity, stopping 43 of 44 shots for a .977 SV% and helping lead the Sabres to a 3-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators.
“My game has been trending pretty well in Rochester over the last maybe month,” said Houser. “So hockey-wise, I didn’t want to change too much. Mindset-wise, I was a little more nervy than I usually am, but nothing crazy.”
Despite his nervousness, Houser put together an outstanding performance and is likely to earn another NHL start in the near future. The 29-year-old goaltender is writing the latest underdog story in the league, and it’s a great one.
“Oh, he’s awesome,” said Sabres defenceman Mark Pysyk. “I mean, you ask anybody, he’s a great guy. He’s always in a great mood. He’s fun to be around, so everybody is happy for him to get that one.”
Perfetti Scores First NHL Goal in Fifth Game With Jets
In his fifth NHL game, Perfetti potted home his first goal for the Jets just 2:20 into the first period of Tuesday’s game against the Washington Capitals. The 20-year-old, drafted 10th overall by Winnipeg at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, found himself on a 2-on-0 break with linemate Pierre-Luc Dubois, who fed him the puck to fire a wrist shot past Capitals goaltender, Vitek Vanecek.
“I don’t actually know where I put it in the net. I kind of blanked and then it was all just a whirlwind,” said Perfetti. “I came back to the bench and actually looked at ‘Dubie’ and said ‘I can’t believe I just scored in the NHL.’ It was just kind of a surreal moment and it kind of hit me when I came to the bench. It was pretty special.”
The Jets eventually lost the game, 4-3 in overtime, but picked up an important point in the standings with help from their newest rookie. Despite the loss, it was an incredible night for Perfetti, who hopes to solidify a spot in the Jets’ lineup going forward. He had the opportunity to suit up alongside centre Pierre-Luc Dubois and left-wing Kyle Connor on Tuesday.
Related: NHL Talk: Red Wings Resurgence & Blue Jackets Goaltending
“Part of the learning curve is to make mistakes and to try plays, and for me as a centreman to try and help him (Perfetti) out if he does make mistakes,” said Dubois of Perfetti. “The more confident he gets in himself with what he can and can’t do, the better player he’s going to become.”
Perfetti’s next opportunity to prove himself to the Jets will come on the road against the Nashville Predators on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. CT. He’ll look to continue making a great impression on Winnipeg and building his confidence at the NHL level.
“The more confident he gets in himself with what he can and can’t do, the better player he’s going to become,” said Dubois of Perfetti.
Thank you for reading this edition of NHL Quotes, and make sure to listen to THW Podcast every weekday (Monday to Friday) to hear everything your favourite hockey writers have to say about the hottest topics around the league.