‘Mr. Bruin’ Milt Schmidt dies at age 98
The Bruins have lost an icon.
Milt Schmidt, the man known by many as “Mr. Bruin,” died on Wednesday at the age of 98. At the time of his death, Schmidt was the oldest living NHL player. Elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961, Schmidt was the only man to serve the Bruins as player, captain, coach and general manager throughout his storied career while providing a gentlemanly presence to the organization for over 75 years.
Schmidt won two Stanley Cups as a player and, after a less successful run as a coach, he oversaw as general manager the rise of the Big, Bad Bruins of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Born and raised in Kitchener, Ontario, Schmidt started with the Bruins as a teenager in the 1936-37 season and remained with the organization throughout his playing career, playing 776 games with the Bruins. Schmidt was the Patrice Bergeron of his day, specializing in stellar two-way play from the centerman position. His retired No. 15 hangs from the rafters of TD Garden.
Schmidt joined two of his junior teammates from Kitchener, Bobby Bauer and Woody Dumart, to form what would become known as the Kraut Line.
After being a part of the Bruins’ Stanley Cup-winning team in 1938-39, Schmidt led the NHL in scoring in the 1939-40 season, notching 52 points in the old 48-game schedule. Schmidt’s Bruins, who also boasted future Hall of Famers Bill Cowley, Dit Clapper and Frank Brimsek, won the Cup again after the 1940-41 season and appeared to be a dynasty on the rise.
But with the outbreak of World War II, that all changed. The entire Kraut Line had joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and were set to go off to serve in February 1942. In their final game before going into the service, the Bruins and the Kraut Line thumped the rival Montreal Canadiens. After the game, the Bruins and Canadiens came to together and hoisted each member of the Kraut Line on their shoulders and carried them off the ice as the Garden crowd sang “Auld Lang Syne” in one of the most moving demonstrations of respect the game has seen.
During the war, Schmidt served at an airfield in northern England, giving instruction to pilots on how to survive being shot down over water.
Schmidt lost three prime years of his career to the war service, and when he and his linemates returned, they had to adjust to the introduction of the red line, which was instituted in 1943. But soon, Schmidt’s career would take off once again. After the 1950-51 season, Schmidt was the recipient of the Hart Trophy as the league’s Most Valuable Player.
After his final season as a player in 1954-55, he went right into coaching. In two of his first three years as coach, his teams went to the Stanley Cup finals in 1957 and 1958, losing both times to Montreal.
As coach, Schmidt would preside over some of the darkest days of the franchise. From the 1959-60 season through to the 1966-67 season, the Bruins would miss the playoffs eight straight times, the longest such streak in the organization’s history. Schmidt was replaced after the 1960-61 season by Phil Watson, who had no better luck in turning the team around. Schmidt re-gained the coaching reins just 14 games into the ’62-63 season but he could not make the team turn the corner. He coached through the 1965-66 season, giving way to Harry Sinden before moving into the front office.
But while the team was struggling on the ice, there were good times coming. A kid by the name of Bobby Orr, whom Schmidt had personally scouted when the future phenom was just 12 years old, would arrive in the 1966-67 season to eventually take the team, and the league itself, into another stratosphere.
But even with Orr, the Bruins needed help up front, and they would get it with one of the biggest trades in Boston sports history. Schmidt had not yet fully taken over GM duties in March 1967, but GM Hap Emms had already given his resignation and it was Schmidt who took the pivotal call from Chicago Blackhawks GM Tommy Ivan. The two teams had been trying to work on a deal for some time and, on this particular call, Ivan threw a new name into the mix — Phil Esposito, who had just finished an unproductive playoff run with the Hawks. The deal was Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield to Boston for defenseman Gilles Marotte, forward Pit Martin and goalie Jack Norris. Schmidt took the deal to Emms, still technically in charge, but Emms didn’t want to give up Marotte. So Schmidt took the proposal to owner Weston Adams, Sr., and he allowed Schmidt to pull the trigger on the trade, which turned out to be one of the best in Boston sports history.
Once the NHL’s doormats, the club would become known as the Big, Bad Bruins, one of the most beloved sports teams ever in this city. Schmidt oversaw the team as GM for the team’s two Cup wins in 1970 and 1972.
After the ’72 Cup win, the GM job was given to Sinden, who had briefly left hockey after coaching the B’s to the 1970 Cup win, and Schmidt was moved into a vice president role, a change that Schmidt did not welcome.
In 1973, Schmidt accepted an offer from businessman Abe Pollin (arranged by mutual friend Red Auerbach) to become the first GM of the expansion Washington Capitals, which would begin play in the 1974-75 season. It would not be a happy time for Schmidt, who watched the fledgling Caps endure a historically bad season (8-67-5). Late in that first season he put himself behind the bench, but the Caps did not fare much better. Halfway through the club’s second season, he resigned as coach and GM.
Schmidt eventually returned to the Bruins, staying involved with the alumni organization and managing the Boston Garden club in the old building.
In his later years, and slowing with age, Schmidt’s public appearances became fewer, but his mind remained sharp and he was a beloved figure within the Bruins family. He would still make his way into Boston from his home in the Fox Hill Village retirement community in Westwood for the occasional game at the Garden and followed his beloved Bruins closely until the end.