"You give me five guys named Milt Schmidt, I'll put my grandmother in the net and we'll beat all of them…that's how good he was." Red Storey, Hockey Hall of FamerNovember 11,
Veterans Day in the United States, or Remembrance Day as it is called in Canada, is a very special holiday in the hearts of North Americans. Unfortunately, nearly every family on the continent has members whose lives have been changed by war -- and the Boston Bruins family is no different.
Back in 1942 the collision between hockey and the "real world" was inevitable.
As the Axis powers swept across Europe and finally attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor, World War II dominated the lives of the world's population and changed the lives of several Bruins hockey players like no other event in the 20th century -- and it probably derailed a dynasty.
As the NHL began the 1941-42 campaign, modern fans would be happy to know that the Boston Bruins were the most powerful hockey team on the planet. The winners of two Stanley Cups in three seasons, they began the 1942-43 season with their best forward line intact and the makings of yet another championship squad.
|Milt Schmidt faces off against the Maple Leafs. |
Milt Schmidt, Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer, the famous "Kraut" line, so-named because they were boyhood friends who came from the German community of Kitchener, Ontario, had led the Black & Gold to the 1940-41 Stanley Cup final win over the Detroit Red Wings -- and were poised to do so again.
They returned to Boston from Kitchener in the autumn of 1941 expecting to continue their dominance but the Japanese attack on December 7th, changed their world, and THE world, forever. The Kraut line and goalie Frank "Mr. Zero" Brimsek, a future hockey Hall of Famer himself, would exchange their jerseys for military issued fatigues. Dumart, Bauer and Schmidt, all Canadians, joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and Brimsek, an American from Minnesota, would eventually find himself in the South Pacific.
Before the Kraut line departed, the Bruins were 20-12-5 and on their way to glory. Following the loss of their top line, Brimsek (who would leave the Bruins after the 1942-43 season) and the B's were only able to muster four wins. And, although the Black & Gold made it to the second round of the playoffs, a second Stanley Cup in a row was not in the works.
Milt Schmidt, 88, is still a Bruin at heart and watches the B's on television and visits the Garden whenever he can. He has an overwhelming affection for Boston and Bruins fans in particular, and would talk to you for hours about his many fine days playing, coaching and managing the Boston Bruins. Milt remains the only person in Bruins history to play, captain, coach and serve as general manager of the club.
"The Bruins fans, and the press, were always good to us," said Schmidt recently.
But like many men who served in WWII, Schmidt preferred not to talk about his time in the service with Dumart and Bauer -- especially since the latter are no longer here to speak for themselves.
Milt, whose #15 graces the rafters at the Garden, did confirm, however, that before they left for the war, he and his two best friends were given a special night in the Garden and were carried off the ice by their teammates and, believe it or not, their 'hated' rivals, the Montreal Canadiens
In his book, The Bruins
, former Hockey Night In Canada commentator and prolific hockey writer, Brian McFarlane, had this cogent description of that fantastic night for Milt, Woody and Bobby.On February 11, 1942, the Bruins' famous Kraut Line…received an emotional send-off at the Boston Garden following a pasting of the Montreal Canadiens…After the Bruins racked up 22 points in goals and assists (the Kraut Line accounted for half of them) in an 8-1 thrashing of the Habs, it was time to say goodbye to the boys -- they had signed up for active service with the Royal Canadian Air Force. Applause filled the building as the three linemates were presented with paychecks for the remainder of the season -- plus a handsome bonus…Then, putting bitter rivalries aside, the Montreal players joined the Bruins in hoisting the three air force recruits onto their shoulders and carrying them to the exit.
Schmidt, who was very proud to serve Canada during the war, could almost hear the fans cheering for Bauer, Dumart and himself as he described the scene and was clearly moved by the ceremony that evening long ago and the reaction from the Boston Garden crowd.
"It was a night that I will never ever forget," said Schmidt. "And the ovation!
"I will never, never forget those fans," he said.
And the Bruins and their fans will never forget those who have served the free world in armed conflict.
Thank you, to Milt, and to all of our veterans.As a special thank you to our friends in the military, any serviceperson or veteran with a valid ID may visit the TD Banknorth Garden Box Office and receive two discounted tickets ($10 off each) for the $90.50 loge and $45.50 balcony seats for the rest of the season. Offer is limited to the box office and only while supplies last.