On Wednesday, January 4, the hockey community lost one of the greats, when it was announced that Milt Schmidt had passed away at the age of 98—the oldest NHL player to that point. For the NHL, but especially those in the Boston Bruins organization and its many fans, the passing of Schmidt is the passing of an era, the loss of Mr. Bruins himself.
Schmidt centered the “Kraut Line” of the Bruins with Bobby Bauer (d. 1964) and Woody Dumart (d. 2001), who helped take the Bruins to their Stanley Cup Championships in 1939 and 1941. The three not only played together, but during World War II, the three of them enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and served from 1942 to 1946. The trio would return to the Bruins for another year before Bauer retired.
After his retirement in 1954, Milt Schmidt continued to be involved with the Bruins organization, this time behind the bench as head coach through the 1960-61 season—a job he would undertake again in the mid-1960s after serving as assistant general manager for two seasons. During his term as just the fourth general manager of the Bruins organization, he was behind the acquisition of Phil Esposito and Ken Hodge, two players who would be key pieces to the Stanley Cup-winning Bruins teams of 1970 and 1972. He has the distinction of being the only person in the history of the Bruins to have served as a player, captain, coach, and general manager.
“Milt’s impact in Boston, as both a player and a coach, will forever be felt amongst hockey fans,” said Bruins Owner Jeremy Jacobs. “He was a legendary personality in the Bruins organization and goes down in history as the ultimate Bruin. We should all be envious of the longevity and meaningfulness of his life.”
Schmidt’s connection to the Bruins was more than just a paycheck or a uniform. His love of hockey was intense; something that never left him, as was exhibited in an episode of Behind the B in which after meeting people in the suite at a game, he asked emphatically “Can I sit down here and watch the game?” Even in his 90s he was still that “ultimate Bruin” rooting for his black and gold.
“Milt embodied everything it meant to be a Boston Bruin both on and off the ice. Milt has impacted the Boston Bruins organization in many different capacities, as a player on the ice, a coach behind the bench and as a general manager, cementing himself in NHL history as one of the all time greats,” shared Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs. “Anyone who knew Milt personally knows he was one of the all time greats off the ice as well. His beaming smile, sharp wit and infectious laugh could light up a room with such an incredible presence that can’t be matched.”
His smile and wit were still with him on opening night this season, when he and Bobby Orr were present for the ceremonial puck drop. Chatting before the game, his comments had Orr in stitches. His knowledge of the Bruins organization will unlikely never be matched.
“I got to know Milt when I arrived in Boston, and I quickly learned that he was an outstanding ambassador for the game of hockey, a true gentleman, and that he epitomized what it means to be a Bruin,” recounted Bruins President Cam Neely. “When people today talk about ‘Bruins Hockey’ they talk about the style that Milt created, and generations of Bruins after him tried to emulate. After his playing and coaching days were over, he remained incredibly giving of his time and the wealth of knowledge that he had accumulated over his career to everyone associated with the Bruins and the game of hockey.”
“Bruins hockey” is a phrase that you hear often around Boston. The tenaciousness and grit of Schmidt, the “Kraut Line” and the Big Bad Bruins of the 70s are as intrinsic to the organization as the Spoked-B worn on the front of the team’s sweaters.
“When you think about the Bruins, you think about Milt Schmidt,” assistant captain Patrice Bergeron said. “It has been amazing for me to see the impact that he has had, and continued to have on the organization. The last time I saw him, he was on the ice with Bobby [Orr] earlier this year. He shook my hand and said ‘Go get ‘em.” He was always rooting for the Bruins and in our corner.”
You would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t think much the same way as Bergeron and others within the organization who have been fortunate to have known him throughout the years.
“Milt has been one of the most respected and friendly human beings that I have ever met and spent time with. Losing Milt, who spent his life dedicated to the game of hockey, is a great loss for the Boston Bruins organization and the entire hockey community,” stated current team captain Zdeno Chara. “I will always cherish the times we had together listening to him reminisce about old time hockey as well as our conversations on today’s style of the game—the game that he just loved so much.”
So much has changed in the game, from the equipment to the rules to the number of teams, since Schmidt stepped out on the ice with the Bruins. And gone is a hockey connoisseur who had such a passion for the sport.
“It would be a challenge to find anyone who took greater pride in being a Boston Bruin than Milt Schmidt did—be it as a player, an executive or an ambassador over the 80-plus years he served the franchise, the City of Boston and the National Hockey League,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. “Milt’s respect for the game was matched by his humility and was mirrored by the great respect with which his opponents, and generations of Bruins players, treated him through the years. Milt was a landmark presence in Boston’s sports landscape. The NHL family cherishes his contribution to our history.”
For his family and friends this is indeed a sad day. Perhaps knowing how highly he was regarded by those within the Bruins organization, the hockey community and among the fans of hockey and the Bruins, may combine with their fondest memories of an amazing man and bring a smile when it is needed most. The hockey teams in heaven have welcomed one of the best, and undoubtedly the Kraut Line is already planning their first game above the stars. Oh to be a witness to that reunion.