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NHL Centennial

'Kraut Line' of Bruins honored before going to war

Milt Schmidt, Woody Dumart, Bobby Bauer carried off ice after last game 75 years ago

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

MONTREAL -- It was the first time, and the last, that Montreal Canadiens players would hoist three members of the Boston Bruins onto their shoulders and skate them around a rink in joyful celebration.

But it was no ordinary game on Feb. 10, 1942, and the Bruins' so-called "Kraut Line" of center Milt Schmidt and wings Bobby Bauer and Woody Dumart was hardly an ordinary trio.

It was 75 years ago that Schmidt, Bauer and Dumart played their final game before heading into World War II service with the Royal Canadian Air Force, racking up 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in an 8-1 clobbering of the Canadiens at Boston Garden.

The three boyhood friends of German heritage had been raised in Kitchener, Ontario, arriving with the Bruins in the mid-1930s at ages 19 to 21. They'd become known as the "Sauerkraut Line" for their bloodlines, a nickname shortened to "Kraut Line" -- probably by a newspaper editor writing single-column headlines. With the war brewing and a distaste for Germany having grown strong, they were rebranded again, this time as the "Kitchener Kids."

Schmidt, Bauer and Dumart had been made a line with the Bruins' International-American League (now American Hockey League) team, the Providence Reds, in 1936-37, first labelled the "Kraut Line" by coach Al "Battleship" Leduc, a player for the Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers in the 1920s and 1930s.

It's a nickname they brought to the Bruins. The three were embraced by Boston fans while becoming the most potent line of the latter part of the decade, keying Stanley Cup victories in 1939 and 1941 and finishing in the top three in NHL scoring in 1939-40, Schmidt with 52 points and Bauer and Dumart tied at 43 each.

Video: Memories: Kraut Line Carried off Boston Garden Ice

With war looming, Schmidt, Bauer and Dumart, practically blood brothers, looked into their souls and found something more important than their hockey careers. Together, they enlisted in the Canadian Air Force, ready when needed.

Eight months less a day after their second championship win with the Bruins in 1941, Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese and the U.S. and its allies went to war.

Schmidt, who died last month, was the last of the three to go. He said that had the trio not enlisted in Canada before Pearl Harbor, they likely would have been sent to war with American troops.

"And it only would have been right," he said in 2010, speaking to Boston Globe hockey writer Kevin Paul Dupont.

But before the three men shipped overseas, there was the matter of one last game, against the Canadiens on Boston ice. There was no way the Bruins were going to be beaten on this emotion-choked night.

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The "Kraut Line," as many were still calling the three, went on a tear, the 8-1 victory pushed the Bruins to within two points of the NHL-leading Rangers and shoved the Canadiens deeper into the cellar, three points behind the Detroit Red Wings and Brooklyn Americans.

The Bruins led 2-1 at the end of the first period and 4-1 after the second, then struck for four goals before the third period was seven minutes old.

Dumart scored the Bruins' third goal and Bauer their fifth and sixth, with Schmidt picking up three assists.

Boston Garden erupted at game's end. Bruins management assembled the three massively popular stars at center ice to present them with paychecks for their full season's wages, plus bonuses. Teammates offered them engraved identification bracelets, and general manager Art Ross gave watches to each of the three, calling them "the most loyal and courageous players in the Bruins history."

And then together, Bruins and Canadiens players hoisted the linemates onto their shoulders and skated them around Garden ice to the roar of the crowd, with fans singing "Auld Lang Syne" through tears as their heroes were carried off the rink. They would be fêted well into the night at a party hosted by Boston hockey writers who wanted to pay their own tribute.

Schmidt went to Europe for the duration of the war, stationed in England. Bauer was the first to return home; his two friends later sailed home on the same vessel. They would be reunited with the Bruins in 1946, their bond never closer.

Schmidt eventually went on to coach the team, the most dyed-in-the-wool Bruin ever. Bauer returned to Kitchener to coach a team to the senior-league Allan Cup title in 1953 and 1955. Dumart retired in Boston, serving for years as the official scorer at the Garden.

All three played for no NHL team but the Bruins, skating in a combined 1,875 regular-season games and 222 more in the Stanley Cup Playoffs between 1935-36 and 1953-54, their careers interrupted by the war.

Until their final days, all would cherish the fabulous 1942 sendoff they had received from teammates, fans, Bruins management and an opponent that saw a much larger picture than a crushing loss in one NHL game.

"Never to be forgotten," Schmidt told Dupont of the farewell. "It shows you that out on the ice you're enemies, but as soon as you're off the ice, you can be good friends. To be treated like that, Bob, Woody and I, before going into the service, it's such a credit to the Canadiens, as players and people."

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