San Jose Sharks right winger Joel Ward said he believes it is time for the NHL to discuss retiring the number of Willie O'Ree, the first black player to play in the league.
O'Ree, who wore No. 22, broke the hockey color barrier with the Boston Bruins on Jan. 18, 1958. O'Ree only played in 45 NHL games but is well regarded in hockey circles and is still an ambassador for the sport at age 80.
"I definitely think Willie should be recognized for sure," Ward, who is black, said at Stanley Cup Media Day on Sunday in advance of the Sharks' contest against the host Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday. "The league obviously does that with a task force, but I do think that Willie should definitely be a big part of the league for sure for what he did.
"It's a no-brainer. Without Willie, it would be tough for me to be sitting here today. I definitely think Willie should be a big part of this."
Ward, 35, saw what Major League Baseball did by universally retiring Jackie Robinson's No. 42 and thinks the same idea would work in hockey.
Ward wears No. 42 for the Sharks and said he chose the number to honor Robinson.
"I decided to pay tribute and I saw the No. 42 was available," Ward said. "When I think about what Jackie Robinson means, not just on the baseball aspect, but what he went through, and I always question myself whether would I ever be strong enough to go through something like that, and the fact that he excelled hitting over .300 and knowing that he could be shot at any minute.
"Every time he stepped up to the plate he just seemed to tune that out in some miraculously way, so for somebody to pave the way like that and open doors for guys like myself is unbelievable."
He has similar strong feelings about O'Ree's trail-blazing efforts and hopes his speaking up will prompt the league to consider retiring O'Ree's No. 22.
"That's something to definitely talk about for sure. It would be great if they did," Ward said. "Obviously that's something that would be a great discussion about. With the amount of respect Willie has around the league, it would definitely be something special if that did come up."