During the 1930s and 1940s, the Boston Bruins sent out onto the ice three young men of German heritage – center Milt Schmidt (No. 15), left winger Woody Dumart (No. 14), and right winger Bobby Bauer (No. 17). They hailed from Kitchener, Ontario, where they had played together for the Kitchener Greenshirts. For the 1936-37 season, all three played on one line for the Providence Reds, the Bruins’ farm team. Coach Albert Leduc dubbed this line of Germans the “Sauerkraut Line,” and that was soon shortened to “Kraut Line.” The nickname followed the three to Boston, where they were so close they shared an apartment.
The Kraut Line was so successful that by the 1939-40 season, Schmidt, Dumart, and Bauer became 1-2-3, respectively, leading the NHL in scoring. That was the first time three from the same team ranked in the top three. Together, they won the Stanley Cup championships in 1939 and 1941.
With Canada and the U.S. fighting in World War II, the line received the less-German nickname “Kitchener Kids.” The three players felt more patriotism than a simple name change could reflect and enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). They had registered for the Canadian home guard on July 15, 1940, when Bauer falsified his age “so that he would be called for duty at the same time as his life-long pals, Schmidt and Dumart.” The Boston Globe reported that he “refused point blank to alter the situation when the summons came for all three to report to the colors recently.” Schmidt then enlisted (as a physical fitness instructor) in the RCAF on January 29, 1942. In February 1942, the trio put their NHL careers on hold to serve.
The last game before the Kraut Line reported for duty was held on February 10, 1942 before a crowd of 10,400 at Boston Garden. It was the last home appearance of the Bruins, who would be traveling for two weeks, and the final regular-season visit of the Montreal Canadiens. At the end of the first period, the Bruins already led 2-1 with Toe Blake scoring the only Canadiens goal. Dumart scored the Bruins’ third goal (with both linemates assisting) at 16:52 of the second session. Schmidt assisted Jack Shewchuk in scoring only eleven seconds later. Within the first seven minutes of the third period, the Bruins doubled their score. Bauer scored the first two back-to-back at 1:15 and 1:29. Dumart assisted on both and Schmidt on the second. At 6:19, both Bauer and Dumart assisted Des Smith on the final goal of the game. According to the Boston Globe, “The trio worked like fury to set up Schmidty in the closing minutes and once succeeded only to have the play ruled offside.” All told, the Kraut Line wings each had four points while their center had three. Their combined 11 points accounted for exactly half of the Bruins’ total points in their 8-1 victory.
After the game, the three RCAF men were feted on the ice and off. In the midst of “terrific ovations,” they were placed at center ice. Bruins management presented them each with full-season paychecks and bonuses. General manager Art Ross, presented by his sons (John Ross and Pilot Officer Arthur Ross Jr. of the RCAF), gave them chronograph watches. Ross called them “the most loyal and courageous players in the Bruins history.” The Boston Globe reported, “Farewell messages from Lieut. Adams and Ross were read by Secretary Frank Ryan. Both stressed the loyalty of the Krauts to the Bruins, confidence they will perform even more brilliantly in the greater conflict and hope that the trio will soon return to the hockey wars.” Finally, their Bruins teammates gave them engraved bracelets, “solid gold identification tags.” Bauer said over the loudspeakers, “I have never been more speechless in my life. You will all be proud of us.”
As the organ played and the crowd sang “Auld Lang Syne,” both the Bruins and the Canadiens shouldered the Kraut Line and carried them off the ice. Schmidt never forgot what that night meant to them. “It just goes to show that you can have pretty bitter enemies out on that ice, but after the game is over, we’re all friends, and I think that has a lot to say about the people who play the game.”
That night at Hotel Manger, the Royal York A.C. and Boston hockey writers’ association hosted a party for the Kraut Line. The three servicemen received portable radios, “beautiful writing kits in portfolios,” and “handsome pocket knives.” Bauer thanked everyone on his line’s behalf saying, “We’ll make you proud of us. All we ask is that you give the fellows a break now that we are gone. It’s a strain on a team to lose one player and the Bruins are losing three. They’ve felt the strain already. There have been good Bruins teams before us and there will be good teams after us so do give the boys a helping hand.” The Kraut Line surprised all their gift givers by presenting all of them with monogrammed pencils in return.
The following day, the hockey writers unanimously voted all three as recipients of the Elizabeth C. DuFresne Trophy honoring Boston’s MVP at home games. Manager Art Ross had to make arrangements to have the accompanying souvenirs (bronze ashtrays with the Bruins’ bear logo) manufactured in time for their upcoming charity game. The three would also have their names inscribed on the plaque at the Bruins’ offices.
Once the three had begun serving in the RCAF (at Station Rockcliffe near Ottawa) they played for its hockey team. Only a week after leaving, the RCAF played the Bruins in a benefit game. That year (with the Kraut Line), the RCAF won the Allen Cup as Canada’s top senior amateur team. In October, Schmidt and Dumart went overseas to England with No. 6 Group, part of Bomber Command. There, they played against each other in the RCAF League, and Dumart (of the Linton-on-Ouse team) defeated Schmidt (of team St. George) for the championship. In the summer of 1943, Schmidt was promoted to Pilot Officer and Bauer finally arrived in England. The two played together during the 1943-44 RCAF season, and they defeated Dumart’s team for the league championship. In 1945, Bauer returned to Canada first, and later Schmidt and Dumart followed on the same ship.
After three years with the RCAF, the Kraut Line returned to the Bruins for the 1945-46 season, in which they played in the Stanley Cup finals against the Canadiens. In the NHL, Schmidt, Dumart, and Bauer only played for the Bruins, and they retired one season after each other – Bauer in 1952, Dumart in 1953, and Schmidt in 1954. Almost immediately, Schmidt stepped in as the Bruins’ coach and led them for a total of 11 seasons. In 1966, he became the Bruins’ general manager, and they went on to win the Stanley Cup twice, in 1970 and 1972. Schmidt was the first inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, in 1961, and he was followed by Dumart in 1992 and Bauer in 1996. Of them, only Schmidt has had his No. 15 retired by the Bruins.
- Herbert Ralby, “‘Krauts’ Saying Goodby Tonight,” Boston Globe, 10 Feb. 1942, p. 28.
- Gerry Moore, “Krauts in Last Bow at Gardens,” Boston Globe, 10 Feb. 1942, p. 20.
- Herbert Ralby, “‘Krauts Stagger Under Presents,” Boston Globe, 11 Feb. 1942, p. 22.
- Gerry Moore, “Krauts Figure in Five Goals,” Boston Globe, 11 Feb. 1942, p. 22.
- Gerry Moore, “Kitchener Pals Share Trophy,” Boston Globe, 12 Feb. 1942, p. 21.