BOSTON, MA -- When I received the text from a highly reliable source, I knew it was important news concerning the Boston Bruins. I immediately opened it to read the words, “Milt Schmidt has passed away.” I had to read it more than once because it just did not seem possible.
“I know he was 98-years-old, but he’s Milt Schmidt. He’s Mr. Bruin,” I thought as I stared at my phone.
However, sadly, it was true.
Schmidt passed at Newton-Wellesley Hospital on January 4, 2017. He is survived by his son, Conrad, and daughter, Nancy.
Bruins President Cam Neely, who knew Mr. Schmidt since arriving in Boston from Vancouver in 1986, credited Schmidt with being the architect of Boston Bruins Hockey.
“I got to know Milt when I arrived in Boston, and I quickly learned that he was an outstanding ambassador for the game of hockey, a true gentleman, and that he epitomized what it means to be a Bruin,” Neely said. “When people today talk about ‘Bruins Hockey’ they talk about the style that Milt created, and generations of Bruins after him tried to emulate. After his playing and coaching days were over, he remained incredibly giving of his time and the wealth of knowledge that he had accumulated over his career to everyone associated with the Bruins and the game of hockey. He will be dearly missed. On behalf of the Bruins organization, I would like to extend our most sincere condolences to Milt’s family and friends.”
If you grew up in Boston, and played or watched hockey, you learned about the man known as Mr. Bruin, at a very young age.
You see, in the days before Bobby Orr would go on to become the greatest player in the history of the game, it was agreed around the hockey world that Milt Schmidt was the greatest player to wear a Bruins jersey.
Born on March 5, 1918, Mr. Schmidt learned to play the game in Kitchener, Ontario and signed with the Boston organization in 1936. He made his National Hockey League debut in 1937 and never looked back.
He skated in the NHL for a total of 16 seasons (1936-37 to 1941-42, 1945-46 to 1954-55), missing 1942-43 to 1944-45 while serving in the Canadian military during World War II. During those 16 years in the League, Mr. Schmidt totaled 575 points on 229 goals and 346 assists in 776 career NHL games.
Mr. Schmidt added 24 goals and 25 assists for 49 points in 86 career playoff games.
Mr. Schmidt’s efforts led the Bruins to Stanley Cup championships in 1939 and 1941.
He led the NHL in scoring in 1939-40 with 52 points (22 goals, 30 assists) in 48 games.
Mr. Schmidt was a First-Team All Star in 1940, 1947, and 1951. He was a Second-Team selection in 1952.
In 1951, Mr. Schmidt was awarded the Hart Trophy as the League’s Most Valuable Player.
Mr. Schmidt skated in the 1947, 1948, 1951, and 1952 NHL All Star games.
Currently, Schmidt ranks 12th on Boston’s all-time scoring list.
Upon the completion of his playing career, Mr. Schmidt went behind the bench as the coach of the Bruins for the next 11 seasons. During his tenure as coach, the Bruins went to the Stanley Cup Final in 1956-57 and again the following season, 1957-58.
At the start of the 1967-68 season, Mr. Schmidt was named General Manager of the Bruins. Given the duties to turn around, what had become a floundering franchise that had just received a glimmer of hope after Orr’s rookie season, Schmidt swung a blockbuster trade with the Chicago Blackhawks that saw him acquire Fred Stanfield, Ken Hodge, and Phil Esposito. That trade, along with the maturation of Orr, would be the catalysts for two Stanley Cup championships in 1970 and 1972.
After retiring, Mr. Schmidt saw his number 15 retired by the Bruins on March 13, 1980. He raised it to the rafters of Boston’s TD Garden on Milt Schmidt Night on October 6, 2010.
In his last public appearance, Mr. Schmidt dropped the puck with Orr for the ceremonial faceoff before this season’s first game at TD Garden on October 20, 2016.
Prominent members of the Bruins organization expressed their admiration for Mr. Schmidt.
“Milt’s impact in Boston, as both a player and a coach, will forever be felt amongst hockey fans,” Boston owner Jeremy Jacobs said in a statement issued by the Bruins. “He was a legendary personality in the Bruins organization and goes down in history as the ultimate Bruin. We should all be envious of the longevity and meaningfulness of his life.”
“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,” Bruins legend and Hockey Hall of Famer John Bucyk, who captained Boston to the Stanley Cup in 1970 and 1972, 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.”
“Today is a very sad day to find out about losing one of our own breed, Mr. Milt Schmidt,” Bruins captain Zdeno Chara added. “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.”
“When you think about the Bruins, you think about Milt Schmidt,” Said Bruins alternate captain Patrice Bergeron. “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 (Orr) 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.”
NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, spoke for the entire hockey world in a statement.
“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,” 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."
Milt Schmidt has passed. Long live Mr. Bruin.
Shawn Hutcheon is the Boston Correspondent for The Fourth Period. Follow him on Twitter.