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Milt Schmidt, Bruins legend, dies at 98

Won Stanley Cup as player in 1939, '41, twice more as GM @NHLdotcom

Milt Schmidt, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame who spent more than 80 years at all levels of the sport, almost all of them with the Boston Bruins, died Wednesday at the age of 98.

Schmidt was the oldest living former NHL player. On Sunday in Toronto, he was named one the 100 Greatest NHL Players as part of the League's Centennial Celebration. 

Video: Milt Schmidt centered Bruins' legendary 'Kraut Line'

"It would be a challenge to find anyone who took greater pride in being a Boston Bruin than Milt Schmidt did -- be it as a player, an executive or an ambassador over the 80-plus years he served the franchise, the City of Boston and the National Hockey League," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "Milt's respect for the game was matched by his humility and was mirrored by the great respect with which his opponents, and generations of Bruins players, treated him through the years.

"An ultimate competitor, a mainstay of two Bruins Stanley Cups as a player and architect of two more as the Bruins' general manager, Milt was a landmark presence in Boston's sports landscape. The NHL family cherishes his contribution to our history and sends deepest condolences to his family, fans and all whose lives he touched."

Few men were as identified with one team as Schmidt was with the Bruins. He played 16 seasons with Boston after being called up from Providence of the American Hockey League in 1936-37, missing three more while serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II. Schmidt and fellow "Kraut Line" members Bobby Bauer and Woody Dumart enlisted during the 1941-42 season.

Schmidt retired midway through the 1954-55 season. He scored 229 goals and had 575 points, then a Bruins record, in 776 games. He had 24 goals and 49 points in 86 Stanley Cup Playoff games and helped the Bruins win the Cup in 1939 and 1941.

"There have been other awards, but winning the Cup, to me, was the most outstanding moment of my life," Schmidt told Sports Illustrated during Boston's championship run in 2011. "You have so many players today who are great but have never been on a Stanley Cup-winning team. That's what you dream about."

Schmidt, born March 5, 1918, in Kitchener, Ontario, led the NHL in scoring in 1939-40 with 52 points in 48 games, won the Hart Trophy as MVP in 1951, and made the NHL First All-Star Team three times. He's the only man to serve the Bruins as a player, captain, coach and general manager, and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961.

"Milt's impact in Boston, as both a player and a coach, will forever be felt amongst hockey fans. He was a legendary personality in the Bruins organization and goes down in history as the ultimate Bruin," owner Jeremy Jacobs said. "We should all be envious of the longevity and meaningfulness of his life."

Schmidt took over as Bruins coach immediately after ending his playing career and was behind the bench through the 1960-61 season, then replaced Phil Watson early in the 1962-63 season and stayed through 1965-66, when he became general manager.

Schmidt, who helped sign defenseman Bobby Orr to a contract with the Bruins organization in 1962, made a franchise-altering trade on May 15, 1967 by acquiring forwards Phil Esposito, Fred Stanfield and Ken Hodge from the Chicago Blackhawks for forward Pit Martin, goalie Jack Norris and defenseman Gilles Marotte. The three helped the Bruins win the Stanley Cup in 1970 and 1972.  

"Milt embodied everything it meant to be a Boston Bruin both on and off the ice," Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs said. "Milt has impacted the Boston Bruins organization in many different capacities, as a player on the ice, a coach behind the bench and as a general manager, cementing himself in NHL history as one of the all-time greats. 

"Anyone who knew Milt personally know he was one of the all-time greats off the ice as well. His beaming smile, sharp wit and infectious laugh could light up a room with such an incredible presence that can't be matched. We extend our condolences to all of Milt's family and friends during this difficult time."

Schmidt left the Bruins in 1973 to become the first GM of the expansion Washington Capitals. They went 8-67-5 in their first season, which finished with Schmidt as GM and coach, and he was let go early in the 1975-76 season.

Schmidt returned to the Bruins and was involved in a variety of roles, and his No. 15 was retired in 1980. The Bruins honored the start of his 75th season as an NHL player, coach, GM and ambassador on Oct. 6, 2010, with "Milt Schmidt Night," when he received two commemorative miniature Stanley Cups, representing the two times Boston won the Cup during his playing career. He raised his number to the rafters of TD Garden.

"Today is a very sad day to find out about losing one of our own breed, Mr. Milt Schmidt," Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. "Milt has been one of the most respected and friendly human beings that I have ever met and spent time with. Losing Milt, who spent his life dedicated to the game of hockey, is a great loss for the Boston Bruins organization and the entire hockey community.

"I will always cherish the times we had together listening to him reminisce about old-time hockey as well as our conversations on today's style of the game, the game that he just loved so much. My deepest condolences go out to his entire family and closest friends. Milt will be greatly missed but never forgotten."

Having had a major impact on four of the Bruins' six Stanley Cup titles, Schmidt fittingly helped raise the championship banner after Boston defeated the Vancouver Canucks in 2011 for its first championship in 39 years.

"You don't realize the tremendous feeling to be associated with such great players until after it's all over and you sit down and you let it sink in," Schmidt said. "And you say, 'Boy, wasn't that wonderful?'"

Schmidt became the oldest living former NHL player when Elmer Lach, a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Montreal Canadiens, died on April 4, 2015.

Schmidt continued to attend Bruins games when he was physically able, often in the company of longtime Boston forward and fellow Hockey Hall of Fame member Johnny Bucyk.

"He was like a big brother to me in his coaching days and his GM days and ever since after that we were very close friends," Bucyk said. "He just loved the Bruins, to this day. He watched the games and we'd bring him to games. He was just a great man. [I consider him] right on top [as the greatest Bruin] along with Bobby [Orr]; to me, they'd be the two favorites. Milt was my first coach, my first GM. He was such a great person, I just can't say enough about him."

Schmidt's favorite player was center Patrice Bergeron, who passed Schmidt's NHL point total on Dec. 9, 2015.

"When you think about the Bruins, you think about Milt Schmidt," Bergeron said. "It has been amazing for me to see the impact that he has had, and continued to have on the organization. The last time I saw him, he was on the ice with Bobby earlier this year. He shook my hand and said, 'Go get 'em.' He was always rooting for the Bruins and in our corner. He lived an amazing life and I am very proud to have known him. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends."

Video: NJD@BOS: Orr and Schmidt drop the opening puck

Schmidt made his last appearance at a Bruins game on Oct. 20, when he and Orr dropped the ceremonial first puck before a game against the New Jersey Devils. 

"Ladies and gentlemen, you are having the privilege of seeing hockey's greatest," Schmidt said of Orr that night. "And it wasn't only by my word that everybody knew he was the greatest. It didn't matter who you talked to. He was the man." 

Asked if Schmidt was the greatest Bruins player ever, Orr said, "I would go with that, yes I would. I would go with you, Milty, being the greatest Bruin ever. 

"When he played, I didn't see Milty play. I've seen a little video, heard a lot about him. He wasn't very big but he had a [big] heart on the ice. That's how he played. He was a great player. He's a wonderful individual. He's a great man and a great friend to all of us." 

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