Sunday Flashback: 2013 B’s-Pens playoff column “Sweep dreams will end the Steel City nightmare”

An old friend recently reminded me of a column I wrote in 2013, after the Boston Bruins had taken a 3-0 series lead over Sidney Crosby and the vaunted Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference final (you remember- the guys who were anointed Stanley Cup champs when they scooped Boston on Jarome Iginla at the trade deadline?) Alas, the B’s were unable to close the deal against the Chicago Blackhawks, who earned their second of three rings between 2010-15 against the Black & Gold, but he asked me to dig the piece up and so here it is- in its raw and unedited glory prior to being posted on HockeyJournal.com.

All of my old work at NE Hockey Journal that was not in the printed issues is gone forever from the Internet, as no archive exists given the different format changes the website went through over the years since I started covering the Bruins there in the summer of 2000. All I have left are the files on my computer and so, on occasion, I’ll bring out the dead and we can take some trips in the Wayback Machine to save you any time otherwise wasted with a Google search- the old stuff no longer exists online.

Enjoy the column…in the 5 years hence, the Penguins have fared certainly better than the Bruins, with a pair of championships in 2016-17, but I have to admit- this one was a ton of fun to write. -KL

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Sweep dreams will end the Steel City nightmare (June 7, 2013- HockeyJournal.com)

For some reason, one particular ‘s’ word has somehow evolved to be on par with the one goalies don’t want you using before the shutout is actually in the books.

But say the word ‘sweep’ when your team is up 3 games to none, and everyone starts to get that queasy feeling in the pit of their stomach. In Boston, it’s understandable, given that we are just three years removed from a historic collapse against another team from the Keystone State after building a commanding series lead.

This column is not for the superstitious (another s-word since we’re on the subject), so if you’re one of those types, then you probably should stop reading now. However, if you’ve got an iron constitution and will in line with Gregory Campbell, or don’t take yourself (or sports) too seriously, then forge ahead.

On Friday, the Boston Bruins will sweep the Pittsburgh Penguins to take their place in the Stanley Cup final series for the second time in three years.

There it is. Carve it in stone or put it up in lights…it’s happening, folks.

Just as the B’s exorcised the demons of their agonizing 2010 seven-game loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in style with a sweep of their own just one year later, Boston can revisit history on Friday at the TD Garden. That was important, because it put an exclamation point on the Olde Towne’s first Stanley Cup championship in 39 years. That 2011 Cup victory was a euphoric rush for the Bruins and their fans, but does anyone deny that crushing the Flyers on the way to the summit of hockey supremacy made it all the sweeter?

Two years later, the Bruins have stunned the mighty (and heavily favored) Pittsburgh Penguins in capturing the first three games of the Eastern Conference Final series. This opportunistic, lunchpail group of Black and Gold-diggers have laughed in the face of the vaunted Steel City juggernaut thanks in large part to goaltender Tuukka Rask’s otherworldly performance in net and gritty production from stars like Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand and Nathan Horton.

In short, the B’s have taken everything the Penguins have thrown at them and then counterpunched to the tune of an 11-2 drubbing on the scoreboard. In those three games (and almost two extra periods), the front line skaters like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Jarome Iginla, and Kris Letang have combined for a grand total of no points between them.

It’s as if Dean Vernon “Zero Point Zero” Wormer were staring down Bluto Blutarsky as we speak.

The Bruins will sweep because even if they decisively won the first two games on the road in Pittsburgh by a combined 9-1 score, the Penguins showed some remarkable pluck by battling back in Game 3 to give the B’s all they could handle.

Aside from a Krejci puck off Matt Niskanen’s skate that got behind Tomas Vokoun at the 1:42 mark, the Penguins netminder was near flawless. Until Bergeron took a Marchand feed (thanks to a play along the boards by veteran Bruins forward Jaromir Jagr that would have made Peter Pan’s pirate nemesis proud) and put a dagger in the hearts of the Pittsburgh hopeful just after midnight in Boston.

By all rights, the Penguins should have won. But the hockey gods…ye gods…frowned on Crosby and Co., allowing the Bruins to hand flightless fowl a soul-crushing loss.

And so- the B’s are in position to not only sweep the Penguins, but to put the screws to one team that has been every bit the villain of any in the Boston franchise’s history.

Back in 1991, it wasn’t Crosby, but Mario Lemieux who led his Penguins back from a 0-2 deficit in the Wales Conference championship series. That club, complete with a 19-year-old rookie wunderkind in Jagr, smacked the B’s down in six games en route to easily handling the Minnesota North Stars for the first of two consecutive Stanley Cups. It was Ulf Samuelsson, however, who’s dirty hit on Boston legend Cam Neely hastened the end of No. 8’s Hall of Fame career.

A year later, the Bruins got a rematch in the Wales final, but without Neely (still suffering the after effects of the Samuelsson low blow), the high-flying Penguins blew Boston out of the water in a sweep. The series was punctuated by a highlight reel goal of Lemieux turning Ray Bourque inside-out, outside-in on the way to a back-breaking goal.

It has been 21 long years since the two teams met in the playoffs, but for many Boston fans, the Pens are still a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Matt Cooke’s blindside hit on Marc Savard in 2010 is only the tip of the iceberg, but the incident served as a flashpoint to escalate the rivalry between the teams.

Many cannot ignore the fact Pittsburgh not only landed a franchise player in Malkin in 2004, but also struck gold with the top lottery pick in the cancelled season a year later, essentially handed another hockey king in Crosby. Some won’t forget that when Ray Shero was on the verge of becoming the GM of the Boston Bruins in 2006, he opted for a more promising situation in Pittsburgh at the last minute.

If hell hath no fury like a Bruins fan scorned, then Iginla is the newest Boston target. In a much-publicized aborted trade fiasco, Iginla, the Calgary Flames and Penguins humiliated Peter Chiarelli and the Bruins. In what everyone but Iginla thought was a done deal, the Calgary captain instead elected to lift his no-trade for the Steel City only, leaving the Bruins holding the bag.

If you know the ever-simmering cauldron of intensity that is one Cameron Michael Neely, then you know that the way Pittsburgh embarrassed Boston by scooping Iginla and seeing the B’s snubbed so publicly must have re-ignited his burning desire to pay them back one hundredfold. So far, his team is doing just that.

Even if Iginla is proving that the best trades are sometimes the ones you don’t make, the smugness with which the Penguins and their fans swooped in to exult in the bitterness of Boston’s disappointment cemented that team’s status as Public Enemy No. 1.

If having a villain to focus your angst and anger is a cathartic, then consider the Penguins the therapist you have on speed dial.

The Bruins are in position to sweep away the nightmares of two crushing playoff defeats more than two decades ago. They’re poised to erase the visceral disgust of having lost so many prime years of Neely’s playing career to one of the dirtiest and unaccountable players in history.  They’re on the verge of gaining the ultimate revenge against all of the real and perceived slights that have accompanied one of the most heralded teams on paper in quite a few years.

They say revenge is sweet.

Or is it sweep?

It’s not over yet, but the best thing the Bruins can do is close the deal in Game 4 and put the bitterness behind them once and for all.

(As a bonus- Here’s the brilliant HNIC opening for Game 3 after the B’s won both games in Pittsburgh to Radiohead’s classic “Karma Police” with some amazing juxtaposition of imagery & lyrics)

 

On Rick Middleton’s No. 16 going to the rafters

81-82 Rick Middleton Home Sandow Mesh 004

The Boston Bruins announced Tuesday that Richard D. Middleton aka Rick Middleton aka ‘Nifty’ the right wing who starred for the team from 1976-88, will have his number 16 retired in a game later this November (29th- vs the NY Islanders). The longtime New Hampshire resident and Bruins Alumni fixture is deeply touched by the gesture, which comes three decades after he skated off into the sunset (more on that later).

The former Oshawa Generals star broke into the NHL with the NY Rangers, who selected him in the 1st round, 14th overall, in the 1973 NHL Amateur Draft. Middleton was also picked by the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the rival WHA that same year, going in the second round, 21st overall.

The trade is right up there with Cam Neely as one of former Bruins GM Harry Sinden’s best heists, sending the over-the-hill Ken Hodge to Broadway for the 22-year-old, who put up 90 points in two seasons with the Rangers. The catalyst for the deal was believed to be Phil Esposito, who was dealt to the Rangers the season before in a blockbuster, which sent Brad Park and Jean Ratelle to the B’s. Espo wanted his old (no pun intended) reliable right wing back, and Middleton was rumored to be a bit of a wild card off the ice…his -38 in 1975-76 certainly didn’t help.

So, Middleton headed off the Boston and after a couple of solid, if unspectacular years (by the standards of the 1970’s), he took off, posting 38, 40, 44, and 51-goal seasons from 1978-82. He peaked in 1984 with a 47-goal, 105-point year (finishing second to Barry Pederson’s 116 points) but the Boston offensive juggernaut was silenced in the opening round of the playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens and Steve Penney, who sent them out with a whimper in 3 games (no points for Nifty). The year before, Middleton had posted a playoff season for the ages (33 points in 17 games), leading the Bruins past two rounds of the playoffs including the memorable 7-game affair against Buffalo where he registered a team-record (for one series) 19 points. Unfortunately, the B’s ran into the NY Islanders dynasty in the spring of 1983. Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Billy Smith & Company dispatched them from the Wales Conference final in a series that never seemed that close, en route to a fourth consecutive Stanley Cup, leaving so many B’s fans to wonder…what if?

Middleton’s production steadily declined after that career 105-point campaign, due in part to age and injury, but he did preside over the historic defeat of the Montreal Canadiens in 1988, a first for any Bruins team since 1943. Middleton’s breakaway game-winner in Game 3 (2-0), to put the B’s up 2-1 in the series after splitting the games in Montreal was a fitting coda for a man who had been a part of so many heart-breaking losses to the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge during his entire Bruins tenure. He split the captaincy with Ray Bourque that year, wearing the ‘C’ for home games, until his retirement after the B’s were swept by Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers (their 4th NHL title since 1984) giving way to Bourque’s sole leadership from 1988 until his trade to Colorado in the spring of 2000.

As a child of the 70’s and 80’s, Nifty was an ubiquitous presence in my budding love of hockey and the Bruins. Although not a pure burner, his golden locks (later shiny pate as his hair thinned and ultimately gave way to a Jofa helmet late in his career) looked like they were on fire as he would bob and weave through the neutral and offensive zones, often putting on a display of stickhandling prowess at impossible angles and contortions, ending with pucks in the back of the net or sublime back-door feeds for gift-wrapped tap-ins for his lucky linemates. The Mike Krushelnyski-Pederson-Middleton line racked up 111 goals in 1983-84…a number that seems awe-inspiring some 35 years later.

Although Middleton’s scoring numbers paled in comparison to Gretzky’s (The Great One scored 100 more points than Middleton’s 105 in 83-84 just for perspective), or Mario Lemieux or Bossy to name a few, he was a veritable King Midas for the B’s, creating magic from the mundane and turning pucks into goals. But don’t take my word for it- Channel 38 once paid tribute to him with a highlight reel video now on YouTube to America’s “You Can Do Magic” and I had it recorded on VHS and must’ve watched it 1000 times…

Ignored by the Hockey Hall of Fame, 30 years after he retired, taking his number out of circulation is a welcome move for those who watched him (and maybe a good percentage of fans who didn’t, but who appreciate history). Sure- there are some who may be opposed to the honor (it is the 11th so number retired by the B’s) but that’s just a curmudgeonly nature of New Englanders at work- deep down, even the grumblers get it. After all- we’ve seen Peter Douris, Jozef Stumpel, Randy Robitaille, Ken Belanger, Marco Sturm and most recently, Kaspars Daugavins (in 2012-13), wear the digits in the intervening years. None hold the distinction and cachet Middleton did, and in the end- it’s just a number. It’s time to admit that he wore it well…better than anyone in the Black and Gold. As his 402 goals as a Bruin can attest, he could finish plays off just as easily as he set the table, and was the heir to Espo as the next pure scoring forward to put on the spoked B.

If the Bruins can take the time to honor for a player who grew up and matured in Boston as a model of consistency and was the face of the franchise at least up front for the better part of a decade, then why not?

It’s about time.

 

In his own words: Milt Schmidt addendum

In the birthday tribute post to Mr. Milton C. Schmidt, I referenced an article I wrote on him where I had the opportunity to speak at length with him about his NHL career and the game of hockey.

I went through my archives and found the draft I submitted to my editors at New England Hockey Journal 15 years ago, so here it is- unedited and in it’s original format. Enjoy!

Milt Schmidt- Boston’s Captain Emeritus

On February 10, 1942- the entire globe was plunged into the throes of the Second World War, but for one last magical night, the Boston Bruins’ famed “Kraut Line” dazzled spectators in the confines of the Boston Garden, treating them to an 8-1 thrashing of their hated rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, while giving the fans in attendance a final look at the team’s most prolific scoring unit of that time. Milt Schmidt, a strapping soon-to-be 24-year old, was the line’s centerpiece and one of the National Hockey League’s premier talents. Wingers Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer flanked Schmidt, and on that evening, the trio, also known as the “Kitchener Kids,” because they all came from the same part of Ontario, erupted for eight points in the rout. At the end of the game, both teammates and opponents carried them off the Garden ice on their shoulders, where the three friends left hockey for service in the Royal Canadian Air Force. It was a defining moment in Schmidt’s career, a mere snapshot of many glorious occasions he presided over both in uniform as a player, and as a member of the team’s management as coach and GM.

 

Milton Conrad Schmidt was born in Kitchener, Ontario on March 5, 1918 and wasted little time becoming a standout hockey player in his hometown. A 16-year old Schmidt caught the eye of Frank Selke, who was manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs back then, and Selke approached Leafs owner Conn Smythe about signing the talented center and adding him to an already impressive stable of players. Much to Selke’s chagrin, Smythe balked at the thought of bringing Schmidt on board.

 

“Mr. Selke had seen me playing in Ontario at the Maple Leaf Gardens and liked me very much, so he had Mr. Smythe come down and take a look at me and he (Smythe) immediately said that I was too small,” Schmidt, now 83 and living in Boston, told the New England Hockey Journal recently. “That opened the door for me to end up in Boston, but a few years later, I saw a quote from Mr. Smythe and he said, ‘Frank Selke didn’t tell me that Milt Schmidt was only 16!’”

 

Toronto’s loss was Boston’s gain, and the team successfully courted Schmidt at the urging of his boyhood chums, Bauer and Dumart. Coach and General Manager Art Ross inked Schmidt to his first contract, valued at $3,000. Schmidt’s debut late in the 1936-37 season was nothing spectacular statistically (2 goals in 26 games), but in short order, he and his friends got a feel for the speed and rhythm of big league hockey and the dynamic Kraut Line arrived to the cheers of Bruins fans everywhere.

 

“The first thing you have to realize about our line is that we were all very close friends,” said Schmidt of Dumart, who was also from Kitchener, and Bauer, who hailed from nearby Waterloo, Ontario. “We played junior hockey together and were as close as three friends could be. I might add that in Woody’s first year in the pros, he played as a defenceman. Mr. Ross made a forward out of him, and when I turned pro in ’36, we were put together on the same line. It was a natural chemistry.”

 

The Kraut Line didn’t limit their closeness to game situations, either. According to Schmidt, they were inseparable off the ice as well. “We roomed together at Ma Snow’s in Brookline, and that gave us the opportunity to talk after games. We used to stay up sometimes until one o’clock in the morning, discussing the game that night- what went well, what didn’t go well and so on.”

 

To Schmidt, what made the line so special was that each player brought something a little different to the table. “Bobby was very brainy,” he said. “He wasn’t the biggest guy around, but he was a great defensive player and was so smart. He could beat you a variety of ways. Then there was Woody…he had a real heavy shot for that day. In fact, one thing I clearly remember about his shot when I first came up from junior hockey, was that in practice, (Cecil) ‘Tiny’ Thompson, our goaltender, would just step aside and let Woody’s shot go straight into the net!

 

“Myself, I would say I was a little bit of everything. I was an aggressive player, but I was fair. I guess you could say that I had a little bit of something that helped me to be successful, but the credit belongs to all of us. We all helped to make each other that much better over the years that we played together.”

 

Schmidt won numerous individual accolades over the course of his playing career, all of it spent in a Boston Bruins hockey sweater. He led the NHL in scoring in 1940 (22 goals and 52 points in 48 games), was named the league’s most valuable player in 1951, and was a First-Team All-Star three times. Schmidt was also a winner, helping the Bruins to a pair of Stanley Cup victories as a player in 1939 and 1941, and two more as the team’s General Manager in 1970 and 1972.

 

More than sixty- two years after his Bruins won the franchise’s second Stanley Cup to cap the 1938-39 season, Schmidt still clearly remembers that evening, the night that the Boston fans brought the great Eddie Shore, in the twilight of his storied career, back onto the Garden ice with a stirring tribute.

 

“We had so many great players on the team that year,” he said. “Eddie Shore, ‘Dit’ Clapper, Bill Cowley– all great players. After the final game, Eddie Shore skated off the ice and the fans gave such a huge ovation. They absolutely would not let the President of the NHL present us that Stanley Cup unless Shore came out with the rest of the team. So, someone had to go into the dressing room and retrieve him. When Shore appeared, the ovation he received from the Garden crowd was like no other I have ever heard; it gave me goosepimples just being there and hearing it. Maybe the one night I can remember that even approaches it, was when Bobby Orr’s number four was retired. Anyway, in those days, we didn’t skate around the ice with the Cup and raise it over our heads like they do today. Back then, there was a table set up and the trophy was placed on it and the league president would come out and present it to the winning team.”

 

Schmidt recalls the similarities between the teams he won the Stanley Cup with as a player, and the Big, Bad Bruins clubs that won it all in 1970 and 1972 with him at the helm as GM by saying, “I like to compare the 1970 Bruins to the team we had in ’38-’39- they had a little bit of everything, including number four, and I don’t think I have to tell you who that is! They were such a great club- they could play Sunday School hockey, but if you wanted to go into the backstreets and have a brawl, well they could do that too. And they did a fine job of it!”

 

If Schmidt’s accomplishment as a player, which earned him induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961 weren’t enough, he added to his aura in Boston with a successful tenure as Bruins GM from 1967 to 1972. It was Schmidt’s great trade with the Chicago Blackhawks, one that brought Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield to Boston, which firmly placed the Bruins back in contention as the NHL’s true powerhouse team in the late 60’s and early 70’s. As he engineered that deal with Chicago’s GM Tommy Ivan, Schmidt really had no inkling of how truly one-sided the trade would turn out to be for Boston. It helped to define the term, “blockbuster.”

 

“I had no idea how well it would turn out for us,” Schmidt said. “But at the time I made the trade, I knew that we couldn’t help but improve the team by making it. Freddie Stanfield was an instructor at my hockey school in Penland Falls, Ontario, and I was very impressed with him. He had so much ability, but whenever we played against Chicago, he was always sitting up in their pressbox. Kenny Hodge was suiting up for the games when we’d play them, but he spent most of the time at the end of the bench watching. Finally, I had heard that Phil Esposito didn’t get along very well with coach Billy Reay, so from my perspective, we were going to improve our team with any one of those guys, not to mention all three of them!”

 

Consummating the deal was easier said than done, however. Schmidt continues: “Tommy (Ivan) called me from Key Biscayne, Florida at about three o’clock in the afternoon and we finalized the trade at eight o’clock that evening. It took quite a long time to get all the names in the transaction straight, but even then, I had no idea how well it would turn out. It was just one of those things where I felt that we couldn’t help but improve no matter what, so I went through with it.”

 

Schmidt’s long tenure in Boston has made him privy to generations of fans that have supported the team, from the Boston Garden years, to the current residence in the cavernous FleetCenter. Through it all, the fans haven’t really changed, according to Schmidt.

 

“Bostonians are great hockey fans,” he said. “And they do know their hockey! They’ve always treated me well, that much is certain, and they have always supported the team. They’ve proven that in recent years by still coming out to the games despite a lack of success. So much has changed since I started playing in 1936…back then, there were only three ice rinks in the area to my knowledge. But the fans in Boston have always been both knowledgeable and very loyal. It makes for a great combination.”

 

Despite the fact that Schmidt lost three of the best years of his playing career to the war effort, he returned to Boston to complete ten more seasons with the Black and Gold. Although he didn’t win any more championships as a player, he continued to lead by example as the team’s captain as well as its heart and soul. In one of the proudest moments in franchise history, Bobby Bauer came out of retirement to play one last game with the Kraut Line. On that night, March 18, 1952, five years after Bauer had hung up his skates, the trio confounded the Chicago Blackhawks on the Garden ice en route to a 4-0 win in front of the hometown faithful. Schmidt scored the 200th goal of his career, assisted by both linemates, placing an exclamation point on the legacy of that unit.

 

Schmidt’s career numbers as a player (776GP, 229G, 346A, 575PTS) may seem modest in comparison to the modern era players who play 80 or more games in a season, but to him, the statistics matter very little when you measure the success and happiness he had while a member of the Bruins. Few are more qualified than Schmidt to try and define in words the tradition that is Boston Bruins hockey:

 

“I think that the best Bruins players have always been hard working, but aggressive. Combine that spirit with ability, and you have the kind of guy that true Bostonians love and appreciate, along with the color of that hockey sweater. You know, I never really ever heard about guys wanting out of Boston, and I think that has as much to do with the city and the fans than anything else.”

 

Those fans wishing to understand Milt Schmidt’s place in Bruins lore need merely glance up into the rafters at the FleetCenter where his number 15 proudly hangs, a testament of his dedication to those very ideals he describes.

Happy 98th Birthday to Mr. Bruin- Milt Schmidt

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.

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)