Fitzgerald: Miltie was rich — with friends and memories

January 7, 2017 GMT

The night they met at center ice in old Boston Garden for a ceremonial puck dropping, Flyers president Bobby Clarke introduced himself to Milt Schmidt, then 76, already revered as a living Boston legend.

“I heard you were a pretty dirty player,” Clarke said.

“Well, Bobby,” Schmidt replied, “I used to figure an eye-for-an-eye was reasonably fair, but, no, outside of that I don’t think I was very dirty.”

Schmidt, who died Wednesday at 98, later laughed as he recalled that exchange. “It caught me by surprise. I mean, Bobby wasn’t exactly the cleanest player I ever saw.”

Dirty? No, no one ever associated that word with Milt.

He was, however, as hard-nosed as anyone who ever laced ’em up, yet highly principled, too, living and playing by a code that made him a towering presence in hockey.

Even after hanging them up, Miltie never fully lost that fire in his belly. Following a charitable round at Blue Hills Country Club one day he commiserated with the late Bob Brannum, a retired Celtics bruiser.

“I’ll come home and my wife, Marie, bless her soul, will ask how I did, and I’ll say, ‘Lousy!’ She’ll say, ‘Don’t forget, you’re lucky to be out there at all! You’re getting exercise, remember?’ And I’ll say, ‘I know, you’re right, but damn, I’m still a competitor.’ ”

Milt arrived here in 1936 from Kitchener, Ontario, where boyhood buddies Bobby Bauer and Woody Dumart would become his teammates and lifelong pals. Known as the Kraut Line, they finished 1-2-3 in NHL scoring in 1940, then left to fight in World War II, before returning to skate into local lore and the game’s Hall of Fame.

Milt was in his 80s the night he addressed the annual Johnny Pesky Friendship Dinner in Lynn, turning to face his Red Sox counterpart: “No, we never made big money, John. I’m not ashamed to say the most I ever made was $14,000 in 1955. But it wasn’t just about money for us, was it?

“We’re rich in friendships, aren’t we? And we’re rich in memories, too. When I came here from Kitchener my mouth was wide open as I looked around at all the tall buildings. Then I walked into the Garden for the first time; I’ve never forgotten the thrill of that moment.

“Money can’t buy those memories. And it can’t come close to the kind of friendship you and I have. I will always be grateful for that.”

Those who knew Miltie will always be grateful, too.

Goodbye, good friend, and God bless.