Milt Schmidt insists the secret to reaching his 98th birthday Saturday is good fortune and nothing but the big hockey fan in the sky allowing the Boston Bruins legend to stick around.
But after a 15-minute conversation with Schmidt, it becomes apparent a big part of his longevity is his love affair with hockey. It began as a youth on an outdoor rink at King Edward Public School, down the street from his home in Kitchener, Ontario, and has continued more than six decades since his final game with the 1954-55 Bruins.
"I don't miss many games on television and I'd like to go to more if I was younger," said Schmidt, who spent time in hospital a few months ago after he broke a few ribs in a fall. "I feel good, to be honest with you. I don't feel much different than I did a few years ago."
He attended the Bruins 3-1 win against the Florida Panthers on Dec. 12 in Boston. Afterward, another Hockey Hall of Fame member, Johnny Bucyk, took Schmidt to the dressing room to meet the current Bruins.
Schmidt admires the speed of today's game and likes to focus on Bruins center Patrice Bergeron when he's on the ice.
"I was a center, too, so I like to watch him play," said Schmidt, whose No. 15 hangs from the TD Garden rafters. "I like the way he plays in both ends.
"It's a great game, a better game today. These players are so fast, so much bigger. Those are two things that make them so much better than in our time."
Schmidt became the oldest living former NHL player when Elmer Lach, a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Montreal Canadiens, died April 4, 2015. Lach was 42 days older than Schmidt.
"I'm proud I've made it to this age," Schmidt said. "I have a lot to be thankful for."
An 18-year-old Schmidt joined the 1936-37 Providence Reds, the Bruins affiliate in the old International-American Hockey League. He was promoted to the Bruins halfway through the season to reunite with his slightly older linemates Bobby Bauer and Woody Dumart from his junior days in Kitchener. They were known as the "Kraut Line" because of their German heritage.
Schmidt was known for his toughness and playmaking ability. His 16-year NHL career was highlighted with Stanley Cup championships in 1938-39 and 1940-41, a League scoring championship in 1939-40, the 1950-51 Hart Trophy and Hockey Hall of Fame induction in 1961.
His career took a hiatus midway through the 1941-42 season because he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force with Bauer and Dumart during World War II. The three returned for the 1945-46 season.
"It was an easy decision to make, and I'll never forget our last game before we reported for duty was against Montreal at the Boston Garden," Schmidt said. "We won the game [8-1] and the Canadiens carried us off the ice on their shoulders.
"I cried. Even though the Canadiens were our bitter rivals they did this, and after my playing days were over, some of them became my best friends."
Schmidt's best friend these days is Bucyk. Schmidt retired as a player in 1954-55 to replace Lynn Patrick as the Bruins coach. Bucyk joined Boston a few seasons later and the two have been close ever since. Bucyk regularly visits his old coach and brings him lunch.
"He was a terrific coach and in many ways he's still coaching me," said Bucyk, 80, a Bruins ambassador. "Milt never swore. He is a true gentleman and maybe the most polite person I know.
"He's still very alert and has a good sense of humor."
Schmidt coached 10 seasons and then moved into the Bruins general manager's chair. In his first season as GM in 1966-67, Bobby Orr, who also regularly calls Schmidt, joined the team.
In May 1967, Schmidt traded for forwards Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield from the Chicago Blackhawks for defenseman Gilles Marotte, center Pit Martin and goalie Jack Norris. That trade helped the Bruins win Stanley Cup titles in 1969-70 and 1971-72.
"It's nice to hear from the players, like Bobby," Schmidt said. "Rick Smith was here this week for a visit. Don Marcotte and John McKenzie also came by recently. That means a lot."
How does Schmidt plan to celebrate his 98th birthday? His son and daughter will visit with the grandkids and, of course, by the time 7 p.m. ET rolls around, the Bruins game against the Washington Capitals will be on the television.