Boston Bruins legend Milt Schmidt has passed away today at the age of 98. He was the oldest surviving NHL veteran. A true icon of the game, his memory will live on in the hearts and minds of hockey fans, especially those fortunate enough to know him and see him play, coach, and manage the Bruins for many years.
Milton Conrad Schmidt was born on March 5th, 1918 in Kitchener, Ontario. After playing junior hockey in his hometown alongside good friends and fellow Hall of Famers Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer, an 18-year-old Schmidt joined the Original Six Boston Bruins for the 1936-37 season and brought his friends along with him. As they say, the rest is history. Schmidt played in Boston for 18 seasons, calling it a career during the 1954-55 season. During that time, the trio formed the famous “Kraut Line”, considered by many to be one of the best lines in NHL history. They played a key role in Stanley Cup championships in 1938-39 and 1940-41. Dumart was a three-time All-Star, and played with Schmidt right up until the very end of their careers. Bauer was four-time All-Star and two-time recipient of the Lady Byng Award; the sleak scorer of the group. But it was Schmidt who was the leader and play-maker down the middle. A four-time All-Star and the Hart Trophy winner as league MVP in 1950-51, Schmidt established himself as one of the best players in the NHL during the 40’s and 50’s. His breakout year came in 1939-4o, when he led the league with 30 assists and 52 points. He set a career high four years later, with 62 points in 1646-47 and nearly matched it again in 1950-51 with 61 points. Schmidt also wasn’t afraid to play physical and never backed away from conflict. Hard-working and consistent throughout his lengthy career, Schmidt ended his career with 575 points in 776 games.
However, Schmidt’s hockey career was far from over when he finally left the ice. 16 years of NHL experience and four years of military service during World War II were the perfect formula for a great coach. This realization came during the 1954-55, when mid-season Schmidt retired as a player and took over as the bench boss. Schmidt remained the head coach of the Bruins for 11 years, during which he also served as the team’s assistant general manager. Schmidt took the team to two Stanley Cups during this stretch, back-to-back heartbreaking losses to the rival Montreal Canadiens in 1956-57 and 1957-58. During his time as coach, Schmidt was also inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame in 1961, cementing his legacy.
Even when Schmidt was done coaching in 1965-66, he wasn’t done. Instead, he was promoted to the team’s general manager in 1967. Despite his accolades as a player for 16 years and his ability to jump right into coaching for more than a decade after, Schmidt’s managerial prowess may have really been his greatest achievement. Just two years after taking the job, he had put together one of the best teams in NHL history, which won the 1969-70 Stanley Cup and then won it again in 1971-72. He hired Harry Sinden, developed Bobby Orr (who scored 120 points that year), Derek Sanderson, Wayne Cashman, and Gerry Cheevers and traded for Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge, and Fred Stanfield. Schmidt served as the GM until only 1975, but in that time transcended his hero player turned head coach role and became a true Boston legend.
Just how Schmidt’s career seemingly never ended, his connection with the Bruins lived on as well. Even after retirement, Schmidt remained close with the team, serving in various positions and continuing to mentor some of Boston’s finest players. The Bruins retired Schmidt’s #15 in 1980 and have honored his life-long commitment to the team on nearly an annual basis. Bruins team president Cam Neely said today that “(Milt Schmidt) epitomized what it meant to be a Bruin” and was an “outstanding ambassador for the game of hockey” and “a true gentleman”. Jeremy Jacobs added that “Milt’s impact in Boston… will forever be felt amongst hockey fans”. Finally, captain Zdeno Chara summed it up by saying that Schmidt will be “greatly missed, but never forgotten”. Though Schmidt has passed away, his legacy in Boston and around the NHL will live on. A player, a coach, a GM, a four-time Stanley Cup champ, an All-Star, an MVP, a legend, a great man.