Milt Schmidt, the last surviving member of hockey’s famed “Kraut1 Line” and a former member
of the Royal Canadian Air Force, passed away January 4, 2017, in Massachusetts.
He was 98, and the oldest living former member of the National Hockey League (NHL).
By Major Mat Joost and Joanna Calder
It was an iconic moment in hockey history. On February 11, 1942, the “Kraut Line” led the Boston Bruins to an 8-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens at the Boston Garden.
Then, as the crowd cheered and the Boston Garden’s organist played “Auld Lang Syne”, members of the rival Bruins and Habs teams hoisted the three members of the Kraut Line – Milton Conrad “Milt” Schmidt, Woodrow Clarence “Woody” Dumart and Robert Theodore “Bobby” Bauer – onto their shoulders and carried them off the ice.
The three long-time friends from Hamilton, Ontario, had been dubbed the Kraut Line when they joined the National Hockey League because of their German heritage, which they shared with many citizens of Kitchener. They were headed to the Royal Canadian Air Force and the war in Europe.
According to author and historian Bill Twatio, “Next season, when a heckler taunted manager Art Ross with ‘Where’s your power play!?’ the home crowd roared back, ‘Over in Germany, you slacker!’ Privately, Ross ruefully described Krautless Bruins as ‘the worst team I ever saw’” (Airforce Magazine, Vol 31, No. 1, Spring 2007).
“I don’t think I’ll ever forget what happened,” said Schmidt in an interview. “The players on both teams lifted the three of us on their shoulders and carried us off the ice and the crowd gave us an ovation. A man couldn’t ever forget a thing like that.”
Schmidt had enlisted in the RCAF on January 29, 1942 as a physical fitness instructor, but was given leave without pay until mid-February. He first served at RCAF Station Rockcliffe near Ottawa where, as members of the RCAF Flyers hockey team, he and Woody Dumart helped the team win the Allan Cup as the top amateur team in Canada. (Bobby Bauer had broken his collar bone and did not play in most of the games.) The Kraut Line was booed during a number of the games because of their previous professional status.
On July 23, Schmidt was posted to No. 1 Bombing and Gunnery School in Jarvis, Ontario. Three months later he and Woody Dumart were posted overseas to No. 6 Group (Royal Canadian Air Force), which was part of Bomber Command.
Even overseas, though, they couldn’t leave hockey behind. Both played in the 12-team RCAF League – although as opponents. Dumart’s RCAF Station Linton-on-Ouse team won the championship against Schmidt’s RCAF Station Middleton St. George team.
Schmidt was commissioned on August 17, 1943, and now held the rank of Pilot Officer. At this time, he was the Middleton St. George sports officer. Physical fitness was an important aspect of life on any station and as sports officer he oversaw many activities, including basketball, soccer and softball, recreational swimming at Thornaby Baths, as well as intra-unit sports. He would also have been involved in the station hockey team, which played one game in November 1943 and four games in December at the Durham ice rink.
In the 1943-44 RCAF Overseas hockey season, Pilot Officer Schmidt was on the same team as Bobby Bauer, who had arrived in the United Kingdom that summer. This time, Schmidt’s team beat Dumart’s. This was a special time for Pilot Officer Schmidt as he was promoted to the rank of flying officer on February 17, 1944, and his team won the league championship on March 9.
After the war came to an end, he was posted to No. 1 Repatriation Centre on September 27, 1945, for return to Canada. He was released on October 31, 1945.
Schmidt played with the Bruins for his entire career until he retired in 1955 at the age of 36. During that time, he played in 776 games.
He had begun his hockey career playing junior hockey with Dumart and Bauer in Kitchener, Ontario before their rights were all acquired by the Bruins in 1935. After playing a final year of junior hockey in Kitchener, Ontario, and half a year with the American Hockey League’s Providence Reds, the Boston Bruins’ farm team, Schmidt was called up to the Bruins during the 1937 season. Before going to war, he led the Bruins to two Stanley Cup victories in 1939 and 1941.
Following his return to hockey for the 1945-46 season, he went on to win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player in 1951. He retired from playing in December 1954 and then coached the team to the Stanley Cup finals in 1957 and 1958.
In 1966 he became assistant general manager and, the following year, was promoted to general manager. During his tenure, in 1970 and 1972, the Bruins took home the Stanley Cup. He moved up to an executive position but then, in 1974, he became the first general manager of the Washington Capitals.
Schmidt remained involved with the Bruins through their alumni team and their “Boards and Blades Club”.
The day following his death, the Bruins honoured Schmidt’s memory before a game against the Edmonton Oilers.
“Yesterday, our Bruins family lost a man we have all come to know as the ultimate Bruin,” the announcer said. “Milton Conrad Schmidt arrived here [at the Boston Garden] in 1936 and, in many ways, he never left . . . . Milt Schmidt embodied everything we know about being a Boston Bruin and no one was prouder to represent the organization, as he had for more than 80 years.”
“Uncle Milty”, as some called him, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961 and his No. 15 jersey was retired in 1980.
A brief video clip of the Kraut Line receiving gifts at the end of their final game before heading off to war and being carried off the ice is available on YouTube.
1The word “Kraut” is short for Sauerkraut – which was a derogatory term for a German, especially during the world wars.