Schmidt, Milt(on) Conrad

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SCHMIDT, Milt(on) Conrad

(b. 5 March 1918 in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada), hockey center and manager for the Boston Bruins who was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame and won the Lester Patrick Trophy.

Schmidt, the youngest of six children, was born to Carl Schmidt, a leather worker, and Emma Schmidt, a homemaker. He began playing ice hockey almost as soon as he was able to walk. After attending King Edward Public School, he entered Kitchener Waterloo High School. It was young Schmidt's good fortune to meet the Montreal Canadiens' goalie George Hainsworth, who had grown up in Kitchener, at a school trophy presentation. Hainsworth gave Schmidt words of encouragement that remained with him throughout his lengthy career.

Schmidt and his boyhood pals Bobby Bauer and Woody Dumart originally gained recognition for their hockey skills on a local team known as the Greenshirts. In 1935 Bauer, the oldest, and Dumart were signed by the Boston Bruins and assigned to the Boston Cubs farm team. When Bauer and Dumart arrived at Boston Garden, they immediately made an appointment with the Bruins' general manager Art Ross and insisted that their center, Schmidt, was as good if not better than they were as professional prospects. Ross did not want a seventeen-year-old player and rebuffed the lads, but they persisted and the manager finally mailed a letter to Kitchener inviting Schmidt to the Bruins' training camp in autumn 1936. A week later, Ross received a letter from Schmidt, accepting the invitation and promising that he "would work all summer to save the money needed to report in Boston and would pay his train fare and board."

Schmidt made his National Hockey League (NHL) debut late in the 1936–1937 season, and even though he scored two goals, he nurtured doubts about his future. He mailed his first paycheck home to his mother with a note saying, "Better bank this for me, Mom; it may be the last I'll get." But once the Kitchener trio got the feel of big-league hockey, they provided a dominant forward line for the Bruins and became a hit with the fans. They were alternately known as the "Kraut Line," "Sauerkraut Line," and "Kitchener Kids." Schmidt won the Stanley Cup with the Bruins during the 1938–1939 season, and again during the 1940–1941 season.

The Krauts not only played together, traveled together, and relaxed together, they also presented a united front when it came to contract-signing time. "We felt if we went in together, asked for exactly the same salary for each, and took a stand in our dealings, we'd be better off," said Schmidt. So close were the Krauts that when Schmidt married Marie Peterson in 1946, Dumart and Bauer had to toss a coin to decide which one would be the best man. When Schmidt and his wife had a daughter in January 1948, he announced that Dumart and Bauer were both godfathers. Schmidt and his wife also had another child.

The trio's closeness was often reflected in their scoring statistics. During the 1939–1940 season, when the Bruins finished first, Schmidt led the league in scoring with fiftytwo points while his linemates were tied for second with forty-three points apiece. It was Schmidt's fourth consecutive season finishing first with the Bruins. Not surprisingly, in early 1942, the Kraut Line enlisted as a unit in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II and played from time to time against other service teams. While stationed in England as a flying officer, Schmidt played hockey as often as possible and was as popular as ever.

After the fighting ended, it was feared that Schmidt, like so many other NHL stars returning from the war, might have lost his touch. But at age twenty-eight he regained his form, and in the 1946–1947 season he enjoyed the best productivity—27 goals, 35 assists, 62 points—of his entire career. Even Bauer's retirement in 1952 failed to put the brakes on Schmidt's performance, and in 1950–1951, still teaming with Dumart, he produced 22 goals and 39 assists for 61 points. It was enough to win him the 1951 Hart Trophy as the league's Most Valuable Player, and that year he was elected as First Team All-Star for the third time, having been previously elected in 1940 and 1947.

On 18 March 1952 the Bruins held a "Schmidt-Dumart Night" and talked Bauer out of retirement for one game. After elaborate pregame ceremonies, the Krauts got down to the business of winning a hockey game against the Chicago Blackhawks. Boston won the game 4–0, clinching a play-off berth in the process, and Bauer went back into retirement. Schmidt remained an active player until he was given the coaching reins of the then-struggling Boston hockey club on 25 December 1954. He stayed on through the 1965–1966 season, when Phil Watson was called in to take charge. Schmidt remained with the Bruins as general manager from 1967 until 1972 and enjoyed two Stanley Cup triumphs in 1970 and 1972 with the help of trades he had engineered.

As the Bruins' manager, Schmidt's greatest accomplishment was a deal he made with the Chicago Blackhawks. He sent the Bruins' goalie Jack Norris, defenseman Gilles Marotte, and center Pit Martin to Chicago in return for the forwards Phil Esposito, Fred Stanfield, and Ken Hodge. In the view of some experts, it was the most one-sided deal in the NHL's annals and was directly responsible for Boston's cup victories in 1970 and 1972, along with the Schmidt-engineered drafting of the young blueliner Bobby Orr.

Schmidt left Boston in 1974 to become the first general manager of the new Washington (D.C.) Capitals franchise, but this move generated nothing but woe. The Caps, under Schmidt's administration, never became competitive, and he eventually left the club, returning to Boston to work for the Bruins in the ticket-selling department. He later ran the Boston Garden Club.

Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961, Schmidt was awarded the Lester Patrick Trophy in 1996 for contributions to U.S. hockey. Schmidt's hallmark as a player was his muted ruggedness. One longtime admirer called him "a gentleman's hockey player—until someone started pushing his teammates around." His adversaries swore by his creativity, endurance, and strength, but most of all by his soldierly fearlessness that somehow enabled him to accomplish more in the heat of battle than his contemporaries. Indeed, a case can be made that Schmidt was the greatest center in NHL history.

For further information on Schmidt see and Clark Booth, Boston Bruins: Celebrating Seventy-five Years (1998), and Stan Fischler , Boston Bruins: Greatest Moments and Players (1999). See also James Duplacey, Joseph Romain, Stan Fischler, Morgan Hughes, and Shirley Fischler, Twentieth-Century Hockey Chronicle (1999), and Dan Diamond, Total Hockey: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Hockey League, 2d ed. (2000).

Stan Fischler

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