It is one of the most moving clips in all of sport: The 1942 Montreal Canadiens carrying the Bruins’ famous Kraut Line — Milt Schmidt, Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer — off the Boston Garden ice after the home team had just thrashed the Habs 8-1.
The crowd was roaring, and the greatest line in the game at the time was heading to war, ushered off on the shoulders of their bitter rival.
The Habs and Bruins weren’t exactly friends, Schmidt told Jeff Blair on Sportsnet The Fan 590 Tuesday.
“But it just goes to show you what hockey is about,” the 96-year-old war veteran and Hockey Hall of Famer said. “Regardless of what happens on the ice, off the ice we’re still friends.”
Friends from Kitchener, Ont., the Kraut Line finished one-two-three in the 1940 NHL scoring race, with centre Schmidt leading the way. They followed that performance up with a Stanley Cup championship in 1941, their second in three years, and a dynasty seemed imminent — until something greater called.
In 1942, all three forwards traded in their Bruins uniforms for those of the Royal Canadian Air Force: three prime seasons of their careers surrendered to serve their country in the Second World War. Bauer came home early due to poor health, but Schmidt said he and Dumart served until the bitter end.
“We never gave a thought to Woody not returning or myself not returning…. Coming home was the most important,” Schmidt told Blair on Remembrance Day. “Millions of others who did not come home, we felt sorry for them.”
Concerned how his German last name would be received by his fellow troops, Schmidt said he asked his mother for permission to change it to “Smith.” She gave him her blessing, but he changed his mind at the last minute.
“To heck with it,” Schmidt said. “What was good enough for my mother and dad is good enough for me.” And when the player arrived at his post, Middleton St. George, he was welcomed with open arms at station.
The Bruins, too, considered a name change. Upon the return of Schmidt and his wingers, a contest was held to rename the Kraut Line for fear of political incorrectness. The newly christened “Buddy Line” only stuck for about a month, though, and the Kraut Line prevailed.
When Schmidt returned to the NHL after the war, he wasted no time regaining his all-star form and even captured the Hart Trophy in 1951.
He said he felt grateful to rejoin the Bruins — even if he now had to deal with the red line, which made the game completely different. And not, in his mind, for the the better.
“They said they put it in to create a lot of scoring,” Schmidt laughed. “We found it more difficult because the style we had was to carry the puck in all the time. We’d catch a scolding from [coach] Art Ross if we changed our style of skating.”
The game became more dump-and-chase with an emphasis placed on forechecking, a change Schmidt still disputes.
“I wish some coaches would get back to the old style of many years ago,” he said. “You’d see more stickhandling.”
Bonus: This Milt Schmidt biography is well worth 23 minutes of your time