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It was Albert (Battleship) Leduc, the old defenseman, who christened Schmidt, Bauer and Dumart "The Krauts," and his inspiration was simple: the boys were all of German ancestry. Schmidt and Dumart were born in Kitchener, Ontario, an industrial town about 60 miles out of Toronto where the bulk of the 45,000 residents are of German descent. (Kitchener, as a matter of fact, had been originally called Berlin, but World War I decreed the discreet change of names. When World War II erupted, history repeated itself mildly, and the Kraut Line was temporarily rechristened the Kitchener Kids.) Schmidt's home in Kitchener was about a mile from Dumart's and just about a mile also from Bauer's in the adjoining twin town of Waterloo. "I don't remember exactly when I first met Porky—that's what we've always called Dumart," Schmidt was recalling recently, "but I must have been about 7 or 8. Pork was about a year and a half older than me, and big for his age, and he played defense. I didn't see so much of Bobby when I was a kid, since he lived across the river, but all of us knew each other and kept running into each other playing hockey or baseball."
Schmidt and Dumart became teammates for the first time when they both made the team that represented Kitchener in the Ontario Hockey League, a junior league for players 20 and under. In their third year, 1934-35, they were joined by Bauer, who had been attending St. Michael's College in Toronto and, incidentally, making quite a name for himself. At the close of that season Bauer was signed by the Bruins, after a fairly complicated negotiation with Toronto which had originally drafted him. Dumart was personally scouted by Art Ross, the Bruins' general manager, and also signed. Bauer and Dumart lost little time telling Ross about Schmidt, and Ross invited Schmidt, via letter, to attend the Boston training camp the following September. "None of us has ever forgotten Schmidtty's answer," Ross was remembering this winter. "He wrote that he appreciated the invitation very much, and would immediately get a job and start saving his money so that he could afford to make the trip. He had no idea the club paid a player's expenses."
An emigration en masse
A tall young man, Schmidt weighed about 125 pounds at the time of his first tryout. That was too light for pro hockey, so he went back to Kitchener for a final year of junior hockey and some general fattening up. The next year, when he was 18 and somewhat sturdier in physique than Deacon Waite, hockey's renowned "Dancing Hairpin," Schmidt joined Bauer and Dumart as a member of the Providence Reds, the Bruins' main farm club. In Providence they were placed on the same line at Ross's instigation. By the beginning of the '37-38 season, the Krauts had graduated en masse to the Bruins. There they stayed and played their unforgettable precise and imaginative hockey for 4½ years until they enlisted, as a trio, in the Royal Canadian Air Force. The trio fought the war together, and when it was over returned to the Bruins and put in two more seasons as a line before their partnership was dissolved by Bauer's decision to retire and to enter his father-in-law's business, the Canada Skate Co. Bobby is undoubtedly the only NHL player who ever chose to retire after a season in which he scored 30 goals, the equivalent of batting .350. Dumart remained an active player with the Bruins until 1954, when he was 37 years old. The previous spring, in a playoff series in which a mediocre Boston team unaccountably overwhelmed the Red Wings, Dumart turned in a last superlative performance when, with a tremendous exhibition of all-round defensive play, he held the great Gordon Howe in check game after game as Howe has never been checked before or since. Schmidtty hung on as a player until midway through the '54-55 season when, unable to do the things he could once do on ice, he accepted the coaching job that had been held waiting for him for many seasons.
The Krauts continue to be very close to each other. Bauer, of course, presently lives back in Kitchener-Waterloo, but he comes down to Boston fairly frequently on business trips and for special Bruin occasions. Such a one was the evening of March 18, 1952, Milt Schmidt Night at the Garden. For that one game against the Blackhawks, Bauer was officially reinstated as a player and the Krauts were reunited for one final fling together. What they did was almost too good to be true. Even though he had been in retirement for five years, Bauer managed to score a picture-postcard goal, and in the second period he and Dumart worked the puck down the ice, whipped it over to Schmidt in front of the cage, and Schmidtty slapped in the 200th goal of his NHL career. Since Dumart's retirement, he has been affiliated with Bauer's skate company as its New England representative, and the Dumarts live next door to the Schmidts in Needham, a suburb of Boston. Porky and Milt drive into and back from every home game together, talking things over, or if the Bruins are in a rough slump, shutting up together. "This year," Dumart says, "has been a much better one for conversation than last."
The spearhead of the Krauts, to be sure, was Schmidt, three-time All-League center, top league scorer in 1939-40, and as late as the 1950-51 season winner of the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player. "Schmidt was the fastest playmaker of all times," Art Ross has remarked. "By that I mean that no player ever skated at the tilt Schmidtty did and was still able to make the play." Because of his full-throttle style of attack, when Schmidt was body-checked by a rugged defenseman on the lines of "Black Jack" Stewart, the impact was more like a crash than a mere check. For all his sinew, Schmidt suffered an almost endless succession of injuries, which included broken ribs, a broken jaw, a broken nose, severe injuries to his knees and a recurrent wry neck. An incredible competitor, he almost always managed to get onto the ice somehow and play. Against the Leafs, for example, in one playoff series, when both his knees were so banged up from repeated injuries that he literally couldn't bend them, he had his legs taped from the ankle to the thigh and then had himself lifted off the table and "onto his skates." Not infrequently, Schmidt's injuries resulted from shuddering collisions with the metal goal posts. In a playoff game against Les Canadiens in 1947, just such a collision was the inevitable aftermath of one of the most spectacular of his countless spectacular goals. With the Canadiens trailing by a goal and pressing hard for the equalizer, Schmidt broke up a Montreal power play by getting the tip of his blade onto a pass that was being fed back from a corner to Butch Bouchard stationed at one of the points just inside the Boston blue line. He flipped the puck over Bouchard's stick, wheeled in a flash and corralled the loose puck at center ice a step ahead of Bouchard and one other pursuing Canadien. Usually, in a circumstance like this when a player in Schmidt's position has the chance for a breakaway, either he is overtaken by the defending players or else, in outskating them, he is simply going too fast to control himself and the puck at the same time. Schmidt, however, managed to stay in the clear with a terrific burst of speed and still retain partial control of the puck as he swept, more than a little off balance from his effort, into Montreal territory with only the goalie, Bill Durnan, to beat. Instead of just settling for getting a shot off and calling it a good play at that, Schmidt somehow poised himself just long enough to snap a hard low shot into the left-hand corner of the cage. Then, careening way out of control at almost the same instant, he tumbled over himself onto the ice and went sliding head-first against the goal post and off the goal post into the cage itself. After a few repairs, he was back in the game again, never sparing himself. As a coach, Schmidtty has never asked his players to do anything he didn't do himself, in spades, and this explains his success to a considerable measure.
A meaningful boast
If there is such a thing as the definitive Schmidt anecdote, it took place in the summer of 1955 when Schmidt, about to begin his first full season as the Bruins' coach, was having a drink after a round of golf with Lynn Patrick, the Bruins' present general manager whom Schmidt had succeeded as coach, and a small group of their mutual friends. The conversation turned to hockey. "Schmidt will never be as successful a coach as I was," Patrick suddenly volunteered. Patrick is a notoriously mature and unegoistic person, and hearing him talk like this staggered his listeners, Schmidt particularly. "That's true—Schmidtty will never be anywhere near as successful a coach as I was," Patrick repeated. "He'll never be able to look down the bench when the team's in trouble and say as I could, 'Milt, get out there.' "