Nominations open for sixth annual Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award

For the first time, the NHL will present the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award to one winner in the United States and the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award presented by Hyundai to one winner in Canada

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The National Hockey League (NHL®) today announced that nominations are open for the 2023 Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award in the United States and the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award presented by Hyundai in Canada, which will each be given to an individual who – through the sport of hockey – has positively impacted their community, culture or society.

New this year, there will be two award winners – a U.S. winner and a Canadian winner, with the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award in Canada presented by Hyundai. Nominate your hero today at Nominations are open until Feb. 5, 2023, at 11:59 p.m. ET.

The Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award honors former NHL forward Willie O’Ree, who on Jan. 18, 1958, became the first black player to compete in the League when he stepped onto the ice for the Boston Bruins. For more than two decades O’Ree has been an ambassador for Hockey is for Everyone and a force for inclusion and social change, using hockey as a platform to build character, teach life skills, and share the values of the game – perseverance, teamwork, and dedication.

 “Hyundai Canada’s sponsorship of the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award allows us to spotlight community heroes who continuously drive the game of hockey forward,” said Christine Smith, Director of Marketing of Hyundai Auto Canada. “Willie O’Ree demonstrated fearlessness in the face of unprecedented adversity, and in turn, changed the game of hockey forever. People who exude that same spirit and dedication to improve their communities deserve recognition, and we look forward to learning more about these remarkable individuals through the voting process.”

“Today, there exists an army of community hockey leaders that selflessly carry on Willie’s legacy, connecting with individuals – many from underserved communities or underrepresented groups – and leveraging hockey to instill the values and character traits that will help them succeed on and off the ice,” said Kim Davis, NHL Sr. Executive Vice President of Social Impact, Growth Initiatives and Legislative Affairs. “The Willie O’Ree Award is our moment to pause, reflect and celebrate the extraordinary contributions of people unlocking new possibilities for future generations.”

Last season, Noel Acton of Baltimore, Maryland, received $25,000 USD to donate to a charity of his choice as the recipient of the award, which was donated to the Tender Bridge Foundation. Acton is the founder of the Tender Bridge Foundation, a nonprofit that has supported more than 500 youth in East Baltimore for 20 years. Focused on getting kids off the street and into sports programs, Noel and his team provide all levels of assistance including equipment, transportation, and meals, anything to help the kids succeed. 

Legal residents of the fifty (50) United States (including the District of Columbia) or Canada who are at least thirteen (13) years of age or older can submit a candidate for the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award and the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award presented by Hyundai. U.S. residents can only nominate U.S.-based nominees and Canadian residents can only nominate Canada-based nominees.

The candidates will be narrowed down to three finalists for each award, to be announced in April. The Canadian winner of the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award presented by Hyundai will be announced on Sportsnet during the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs and the United States winner of the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award will be announced in June during the NHL Awards™ ceremony. Both winners will receive a $25,000 USD prize and the four remaining finalists will each receive a $5,000 USD prize, each of which will be donated to a charity of their respective choice. The finalists, and ultimate winners, will be determined by a judging panel with weighted votes from Willie O’Ree, NHL and for the award in Canada, representatives from Hyundai. A public fan vote will also help determine both winners.   

For more about the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, including past winners, click here.