Milton C. Schmidt– No. 15 in your programs, No. 1 in your hearts- turns 98 today and is the oldest living NHL player.
Legends of Hockey profile on Milt Schmidt (posted ironically enough by SwissHabs- a Montreal fan)
His number hangs from the TD Garden rafters as the B’s top star for his era and centerpiece of the famed ‘Kraut Line’ with Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer. For those who may not know, the trio earned fame in 1940 by become the first line in NHL history to finish the season 1-2-3 in scoring- Schmidt led the way.
By today’s standards, his numbers are nothing to write home about- he’s not even in the franchise top-10 list of all-time scorers (his 575 career points put him at 11th) but you can bet that had he not given up three full seasons in the prime of his career to serve in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War (all three members of the Kraut Line enlisted together), he’d have been much higher in Boston’s offensive annals. Ryan Spooner pointed out previously that he likes wearing No. 51 because of the connection it has to Schmidt’s 15. So, even the youngest generation of Boston Bruins players respect and appreciate what he means to the hockey club.
Schmidt did more than help the Bruins win two of the franchise’s six Stanley Cups (1939 and 1941) during his tenure, but as a general manager, had a big hand in the Big, Bad Bruins victories in 1970 and 1972 as well. Player, coach, GM- “Uncle Milty” did it all.
As a standout on the Kitchener Greenshirts junior team, Schmidt was snubbed by the Toronto Maple Leafs because of his German heritage (the legendary Conn Smythe allegedly called him a ‘squarehead’ and refused to take Frank Selke’s advice to sign him in what would prove to be a costly lesson in prejudice and bias) but Boston coach and GM Art Ross saw the promise and the rest is history. To be fair- the way Schmidt tells the story- Smythe was unimpressed because he didn’t realize at the time watching the young center that Schmidt was only 16. Either way- Toronto’s loss was clearly Boston’s gain.
Speaking of history, how awesome would it be for Claude Julien’s Bruins team to earn their coach his 388th career victory against the Washington Capitals (they’ve lost six straight to the Caps) in Boston to move him past Ross for No. 1 on the team’s all-time list on Schmidt’s birthday?
Chills and (as Mr. Schmidt would say) goose pimples!
I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Schmidt in 2001- it’s hard to believe it was 15 years ago- for a “Where Are They Now?” story I was doing for New England Hockey Journal. The interview itself was amazing- I personally discovered what those who know him and have been able to meet him all well aware of- his grace, charm and humility are boundless. He had and still has- such a sharp mind and his recall and memory for detail was astounding. It was one of those rare moments where, as a person who grew up as a student of the game and its history, I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
What struck me about the encounter though, as I look at the well-wishes pouring in for Mr. Schmidt on his 98th birthday, is what happened when I first called the number I was directed to phone for the interview.
A woman answered and I identified myself and asked for Mr. Schmidt.
“Oh, yes- he was expecting your call, but he’s downstairs working out. May I have him call you back when he’s finished?”
I provided my number and a few minutes later, as the gentleman he is, I got my call and about 30-45 minutes of his time. I never forgot that.
And today, I was reminded that he was working out at the tender age of 83.
And if you had any questions about why Schmidt is still gracing us with his presence in 2016, this decade-and-a-half later, that should take care of it. Knowing he had a chance to witness one more Stanley Cup in 2011 was the cherry on top in the life of an amazing man.
How great would it be for this team to honor him with another one?
Happy Birthday, sir.
(Here’s his 95th birthday celebration in 2013- posted by the NHL)