BOSTON (AP) — Milt Schmidt, the hockey hall of famer who led Boston to two Stanley Cup championships as the center of the “Kraut Line,” served Canada in World War II and returned to the NHL to win its MVP award and two more titles as the Bruins general manager, has died, Bruins spokesman Matt Chmura said Wednesday.
He was 98 and he had been the oldest living NHL player.
No other details were immediately available about Schmidt’s death.
Schmidt is the only Bruin in franchise history to serve as on-ice captain, coach and general manager. His Boston teams won the Stanley Cup in 1939 and in ’41, and when he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force two months after the Pearl Harbor attack along with linemates Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer, they were carried off the ice on the shoulders of the archrival Montreal Canadiens.
“When they grabbed Bobby, Woody and myself, we felt like saying, ‘What are they doing?’ Well we found out in a hurry that they all grabbed us and carried us off the ice,” Schmidt said before a 2016 ceremony to mark the 80th anniversary of his NHL debut.
“That goes to show you that you have friends, although you are bitter enemies, you had friends in the National Hockey League,” he said. “Not necessarily on the ice, but off the ice.”
A native of Kitchener, Ontario, who was born on March 5, 1918, Milton Conrad Schmidt played with Bauer and Dumart in the junior leagues before they were reunited as the “Kraut Line” in the NHL for the 1936-37 season. With the three players of German heritage, the Bruins won NHL championships in 1939 and again in ’41, when Schmidt led playoff run with 5 goals and 6 assists in 11 playoff games.
During the war against Germany, Schmidt considered changing his name — to Smith — but decided against it. (The Bruins held a contest that came up with the suggested “Buddy Line,” but it didn’t stick.)
Schmidt missed three full seasons during the war, but returned to score career highs of 27 goals and 62 points in the 1946-47 season. He won the 1951 Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s most valuable player after totaling 61 points in 62 games.
Schmidt played four more seasons before retiring at the age of 36 with 229 goals, 346 assists and 466 penalty minutes to his credit. He also scored 25 goals and assisted 48 more in 86 playoff games.
Taking over as coach in 1955, Schmidt’s teams reached the Stanley Cup finals in 1957 and ’58. But he had left the bench and taken over as general manager when the young phenom Bobby Orr made his debut in 1966.
At the trade deadline that season, Schmidt orchestrated the trade that brought Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield to Boston from the Chicago Blackhawks. With the future hall of famers Orr and Esposito, the Bruins went on to win the Stanley Cup in 1970 and again two years later.
Schmidt was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961. The Bruins retired his No. 15 in 1980. At the age of 98, he was back in the new Boston Garden on opening night of the 2016-17 season, when the team celebrated the 80th anniversary of his first game and the 50th anniversary of Orr’s debut.
Before the game, the two argued playfully over who was the franchise’s biggest gem.
“I would go with you, Milty, being the greatest Bruin ever,” Orr said.
“He’s got to say that because I’m sitting right beside him,” Schmidt replied.
“He wasn’t very big, but his heart was this big on the ice,” Orr said, spreading his hands wide. “And that’s how he played. He was great player and he’s a wonderful individual. He’s a great man and a great friend to all of us.
After pushing Schmidt to center ice for a ceremonial puck drop, Orr helped Schmidt raise his hand to acknowledge the cheering crowd. They were joined there by Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, and other players skated over to pay their respects.
“It’s very special for me, being here my whole career, and having the chance to see them once in a while,” Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron said. “Realizing how much they mean to the Bruins — but also to hockey, and to Boston, it’s very special to me to have a chance to take a few seconds to go shake their hands.”
Schmidt’s coaching record during two stints on the Bruins bench was 245-360-121 in 726 games.
He was also the first general manager of the expansion Washington Capitals, who in 1974-75 set the NHL’s record for futility by going 8-67-5. Schmidt took over as coach late in the 1974-75 season, posting a 5-34-5 record, including an 0-22-3 stretch that spanned 57 days and cost him both jobs.
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