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Bruins legend and oldest living ex-NHL player Milt Schmidt dies at 98

BOSTON -- Milt Schmidt, the oldest living former NHL player, has died. He was 98.

Schmidt was the only person in Boston Bruins franchise history to serve as player, captain, coach and general manager. His Boston teams won the Stanley Cup in 1939 and in '41, and when he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force two months after the Pearl Harbor attack along with linemates Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer, they were carried off the ice on the shoulders of the archrival Montreal Canadiens.

A native of Kitchener, Ontario, Milton Conrad Schmidt was born on March 5, 1918. He had been living in an assistant living facility in Westwood, Massachusetts.

"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," Bruins president Cam Neely said in a statement released by the team. "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 Oct. 21, 2016, to commemorate the anniversary of their 50th and 80th rookie seasons, respectively, Bobby Orr, 68, and Schmidt dropped the ceremonial puck before the Bruins' home opener against the New Jersey Devils at TD Garden. Orr pushed Schmidt in a wheelchair to center ice as the 17,565 fans gave both a standing ovation. Prior to that ceremony, the two legends held court with the media, and it was evident that Schmidt was still sharp, and his memory was remarkable.

During that session, Orr described Schmidt as the greatest Bruin of all time.

"Milt has been one of the most respected and friendly human beings that I have ever met and spent time with," Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said in a statement. "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."

Schmidt began his pro hockey career with the Providence Reds of the AHL in 1936-37. His time in the minors was brief. He was called up to the Bruins midway through the season and spent the next 15 seasons in the NHL, all with Boston. He missed three seasons to serve in World War II for the Royal Canadian Air Force. He won two Stanley Cups as a player and another two as the organization's general manager. He retired in 1955 and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961. His No. 15 was retired by the Bruins in 1980.

"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," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement Wednesday.

Schmidt played with Bauer and Dumart in the junior leagues before they were reunited as the "Kraut Line'' in the NHL for the 1936-37 season. With the three players of German heritage, the Bruins won NHL championships in 1939 and again in '41, when Schmidt led a playoff run with five goals and six assists in 11 playoff games. As a member of that famous line, Schmidt once held the team's career scoring record (575 points) until John Bucyk broke it on Dec. 7, 1961.

"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," Bucyk 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."

During the war against Germany, Schmidt considered changing his name to Smith, but he decided against it. (The Bruins held a contest that came up with the suggested "Buddy Line," but it didn't stick.)

Schmidt missed three full seasons during the war but returned to score career highs of 27 goals and 62 points in the 1946-47 season. He won the 1951 Hart Memorial Trophy as the league's most valuable player after totaling 61 points in 62 games.

Schmidt played four more seasons before retiring at the age of 36 with 229 goals, 346 assists and 466 penalty minutes to his credit. He also scored 25 goals and assisted 48 more in 86 playoff games.

He took over as coach in 1955, and his teams reached the Stanley Cup finals in 1957 and '58. But Schmidt had left the bench and taken over as general manager in 1966, when Orr made his debut.

At the trade deadline that season, Schmidt orchestrated the trade that brought Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield to Boston from the Chicago Blackhawks. With the future Hall of Famers Orr and Esposito, the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 1970 and again two years later.

Schmidt's coaching record during two stints on the Bruins' bench was 245-360-121 in 726 games.

He was also the first general manager of the expansion Washington Capitals, who in 1974-75 set the NHL's record for futility by going 8-67-5. Schmidt took over as coach late in the 1974-75 season, posting a 5-34-5 record, including an 0-22-3 stretch that spanned 57 days and cost him both jobs.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.