It’s Remembrance Day in Canada and Veterans Day in the United States and this is a hockey blog, so let’s talk hockey and remembrance. Specifically, the Kraut Line.
For whatever reason, I always tend to think of that trio of Boston Bruins at this time of year. To think of three hockey personalities literally going to war for their country, potentially giving their lives and certainly giving up parts of their careers is heady stuff.
For the uninitiated, ‘The Kraut Line’ was made up of Milt Schmidt, Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer, three excellent forwards from Kitchener, Ont., a town known for German immigrants that had actually been called Berlin until 1916. The name, which was originally the ‘Sauerkraut Line,’ came from an opponent.
Joining the Bruins in the late 1930s, it didn’t take long for the trio to make their mark. Boston won the Stanley Cup in 1939 and 1941 and in 1940, Schmidt won the Art Ross Trophy with 52 points in 48 games. All three players were in their prime when they decided to pitch in for the Canadian effort during the Second World War: Bauer, Dumart and Schmidt all signed up for the Royal Canadian Air Force and headed overseas to fight the Nazis.
In retrospect, it’s all pretty stunning – though a number of other NHLers did the same thing back then. But imagine stepping away from a dream job with the Bruins in order to fight for your country, not knowing if you’re ever going to come back. All three were willing to make that sacrifice.
And even though we’re talking about the Original Six era here, let’s not forget that these guys sacrificed glory on the ice for their country. Winning a Cup in Boston is a beautiful thing, but it hasn’t happened that often. Think about it: even with Bobby Orr, the greatest defenseman of all-time in the lineup, the Bruins only won two titles – in 1970 and 1972 – during an era of weak competition (besides Montreal and Philadelphia). Orr had three more straight seasons of 100-plus points after the 1972 triumph and a stacked group of forwards that included Phil Esposito, yet something held his crew back from greatness. It’s amazing in retrospect. Since then, of course, the Bruins have rebounded and the current group – led by Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron – have won a Cup and consistently been contenders, even though they play in a much more competitive 31-team circuit.
Which is all a roundabout way of saying that the Kraut Line knew the sacrifices they were making and they did it anyway. Heck, they even realized that having German last names may not make it comfortable for them in the Canadian military, given where their fascist enemy was from – but they went anyway.
Luckily, all three of them made it back to Canada and continued on their NHL careers. Schmidt would become a fixture in Boston for decades and lived to the impressive age of 98. All three members of the Kraut Line were inducted into the Hall of Fame and when you think of famous trios in hockey, they’re one of the first names to come up.
Sports and society in general are so much different these days, it’s hard to imagine a pro athlete going to war (though there are exceptions like Pat Tillman). But back in the day, it was a real calling and guys like Bauer, Dumart and Schmidt showed that they were champions on the ice and courageous in the face of fascists off it, too.
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