Causeway Street is silent today.
The old Boston Garden has been gone since 1998, but if you're a believer in hockey lore, you'll know that the parking lot next to the TD Garden where it once stood is perhaps still haunted by the spectre of Bruins past, forever playing out their greatest games as the winter wind whistles down the empty street like the raw of a spectral crowd.
Tonight, these games will have one more player. Milton Conrad "Milt" Schmidt will once again center his linemates and childhood friends Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer, as the last living member of the famous "Kraut Line" and the oldest living former NHL player left us today at the grand old age of 98.
As Gordie Howe was to Detroit, Schmidt was to Boston. He played for, coached and was general manager of the Bruins during his long life, but will be remembered primarily for his exploits between the faceoff dots, as he centered one of the most storied and well-known lines in NHL history throughout the 1930s, 40s & 50s - a line made up of three young boys and childhood friends from Kitchener, Ontario, all of German ancestry.
Born in Kitchener, Ontario on March 5th 1918, Schmidt's love affair with hockey began early, skating on a chilly outdoor rink near his school, King Edward's, down the street from his house. In fact, he skated so often that his principal called him into the office, concerned about the effect it was going to have on his studies. When he asked the young boy what plan he had for his future, though, Schmidt knew even then.
"I'm going to be a professional hockey player".
And what a player he became.
He played childhood games with his Kraut Line linemates Dumart and Bauer, and when he was signed to the Providence Reds, Boston's minor-league affiliate in 1936, but promoted to the Bruins halfway through that season, they naturally formed a line together.
Schmidt was the playmaker-a tough, skilled center who wore the number fifteen and was the Mark Messier of his era - responsible in both ends and with the ability to thread a pass through the eye of a needle. He was utterly unselfish, preferring to pass rather than shoot.
In 776 NHL games, he scored 576 points, 346 of them assists. The vast majority were with his childhood friends - perhaps the greatest indication of just how good they were together was the 1939-40 season, where the NHL scoring top three read like this:
Milt Schmidt (BOS)
Woody Dumart (BOS)
Bobby Bauer (BOS)
He is a player who Bobby Orr has called "the greatest ever Bruin". While playing, he won two Stanley Cups, and played those 776 games despite leaving hockey for four years during WWII to enlist in the Canadian armed forces (winning the Allan Cup along the way with the RCAF hockey team, along with his B's linemates.)
His favourite moment in hockey came in his last game before enlisting, on Feb 11th 1942, where he was carried off the ice in Montreal by the Canadiens after the Kraut Line accounted for half the points scored by the B's (both goals and assists) in an 8-1 victory. He spoke many times about how the moment brought tears to his eyes.
Schmidt returned to the Bruins after the war, playing between 1946 and 1954 and winning the Hart Trophy at the age of 32. He made a decision to retire after a game in Chicago when, as he put it, "...when I fell, I had a tough time getting up. I told Lynn Patrick and he said "it's your decision".
Schmidt was immediately named coach by president Walter Brown, and in his 11 seasons behind the Bruins bench took them to the Stanley Cup Finals twice, scouting Bobby Orr aged 12 and coaching B's legends like Johnny Bucyk. In all his time coaching, he was never known to swear - as he told it "you're not going to make players better by swearing at them".
He was inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961, but arguably his best time was still to come. In 1966, Schmidt became Bruins general manager, and pulled off one of the most famous trades in NHL history a year later, bringing Phil Esposito to Boston along with Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield for a price of Gilles Marotte, Pit Martin and Jack Norris. In the next five years under his tenure, the B's won two Stanley Cups, in 1970 and '72.
The Hockey Hall of Fame have argued that "a case could be made for (Schmidt) being the greatest all-around hockey person in the history of the sport.", and it's hard to see why not - winning Stanley Cups in Boston as both player and GM and being called the greatest ever by Bobby Orr are not the actions of a mere hockey mortal, by any stretch.
After his retirement from hockey, Schmidt remained an active part of the B's, regularly attending games - his sweater hangs in the rafters at the TD Garden and he is regularly mentioned among the greatest players in the game. For his part, Schmidt's favorite current Bruin, he said, was Patrice Bergeron, which is not surprising for a player who is arguably Schmidt's spiritual heir and the Bruins' modern day equivalent of arguably their greatest ever centerman.
With his passing today, New England mourns, but so does all of the NHL. A truly great icon of the game has left us - one whose impact on Boston is arguably only matched by that of Bobby Orr.
And on that icy parking lot on Causeway in the dead of the night, the Kraut Line is reunited to terrorise opposition defenses again, while hockey's heavenly arena (which, if it exists, might be some combination of the Montreal Forum, the Boston Garden, Detroit's Olympia and the old Maple Leaf Gardens) sees another all-star take a skate on its heavenly pad.
Goodbye and thank you, Milt Schmidt. Boston will never forget you.