BOSTON -- There was no better, no simpler way to put it. As Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien said Thursday, the day after Hockey Hall of Famer and Boston legend Milt Schmidt died at age 98, "I don't know any other way to say it but to say he was definitely the ultimate Bruin."
There was a somber note throughout the Bruins dressing room before they faced the Edmonton Oilers at TD Garden on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; SN, TVA Sports, NESN, NHL.TV). That was especially true among the veteran players, who had been exposed to Schmidt for years and had learned to respect and admire someone who had been a player, coach and general manager of the franchise, and who had been named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players on Sunday.
"His wisdom, his heart, his passion and pride to be a Bruin and the best human being that he could possibly be represents pretty much everything that we all strive for," captain Zdeno Chara said.
The Bruins will honor Schmidt's legacy with a tribute before the game against Edmonton. Graphics with Schmidt's retired No. 15 have been painted behind each net and will remain there through the month of January. The team will also wear a commemorative patch on their jerseys with Schmidt's No. 15 for the rest of the season.
It was the little things that stuck out with Schmidt, the way he remembered everyone's names, the handwritten letters he would send to Julien, the way he always managed to stay in touch, the way he linked generations of players together.
Video: NHL Tonight pays tribute to Milt Schmidt
"Tremendous human being," Chara said. "Any time we had a chance to meet him and interact with him, it was such a pleasure to have conversations with a man who's been through so much and accomplished so much that it was very inspirational, very motivational and something that you will never forget.
"It's just unbelievable what he meant not just for this organization but for hockey, in the world. The braveness he's shown over the course of his life. He was very special."
Schmidt also was a delight to be around, something he demonstrated in spades in October, when he joined Bobby Orr in dropping the first puck before the home opener against the New Jersey Devils. The spirit was indomitable, the wit evident. He laughed, and he made others do the same.
"He's one of those guys who was always an optimist," Julien said. "He saw the good in everybody and was always there to encourage you and tell you [that] you were doing a great job. He was one of those people that, by the time you got off the phone or were done talking to him, you felt pretty good about yourself. He had that knack and that quality is hard to find sometimes. But he certainly had that."
Added defenseman Adam McQuaid, "He was very personable and he always kept things pretty lighthearted and just seemed fun to be around and someone that you would easily have a lot of respect for. We all know what he did as a player and coach and GM, but just him as a person, the way he carried himself in a way that you want to try to emulate yourself."
The personality, the legacy, the history and the person all added a feeling of loss. Schmidt had been a reminder of the history of the organization, someone who gave the players "that family feeling," as McQuaid put it, in a franchise full of legends, a personal touch to the photographs on the walls and the trophies in the cases.
"We're all very saddened to hear about Milt's passing. He's a legend," forward Brad Marchand said. "For this organization, what he's done, what he was able to accomplish, every time you see him you just watch him and admire who he is and how great of a person he was off the ice, always very nice and genuine to everyone that he met. It was an honor to have known him."
It was something agreed upon throughout the franchise, from the dressing room to the front office. Schmidt was so much more than a hockey player or coach or GM.
"He's done it all," Julien said. "He's been loyal, he's been around forever and he'll be dearly missed. He's had a great life. I mean, 98 years old, he was going to be 99 in March. What a great life he's had. What a great opportunity we've had to spend some time with him."