Porky Dumart was a defenseman all his amateur days — it was Art Ross who made him a left winger. As noted, Battleship Leduc was the one, coaching Milt Schmidt, Dumart, and Bobby Bauer when they played for the Providence Reds in 1937, who named the line. There are a couple of variations on this. Dumart says that he called them the Sauerkraut Line, which was later shortened to Kraut Line, “for our little German hometown.”
In 2002, Schmidt told it this way to Kevin Shea at the Hockey Hall of Fame. Leduc said:
“All you fellas come from Kitchener-Waterloo. There’s a lot of people of German descent from there. We gotta get a name for ya — the Kraut Line!” We didn’t mind. It was a name that kinda stuck to us.”
“It didn’t bother us,” Schmidt said in 1990. “The called us squareheads and everything else you can imagine back then. Who cared?”
War with Germany doesn’t seem to have brought about any immediate change in nomenclature. The Kitchener Kids was another nickname that dated back to their earliest days in Boston, and sometimes you see that in the wartime accounts, but mostly it’s Krauts.
A Boston paper, The Daily Record, did run a contest asking readers to rename the trio. And the winner was … The Buddy Line. “It didn’t last,” Schmidt said.
In February of 1942, joining the RCAF, he did think about adjusting his own name for the duration of the war. He asked his mother what she’d think of her son shipping overseas as a Smith. Go ahead, she said, fine.
“But I didn’t; I stayed with Schmidt. What the heck, I’d had it all my life.”
Arriving in Ottawa, they were described as “a mild-mannered group,” polite, not much to say. “We’re glad to be here,” Bauer confided. “We’ll do anything we can to help the air force. We’re taking this business seriously. Whether we play hockey depends on the air force and we’ll do our best to help the other members of the team bring the Allan Cup here.”
Which, of course, is just what they did, come April, though Bauer didn’t make it all that way, going down wounded in action, with a collarbone he fractured in practice.
Booing was a problem wherever the Bruin-boosted RCAF Flyers skated that spring. Because — Germans? There’s no mention of that in contemporary accounts. Here’s the Canadian Press reporting from Midland, Ontario:
The sentiment among the crowd which roars against the famed Kraut line of Boston Bruin fame seems to be that it’s all their fault the amateurs against whom they play are not as good. And, as the list of victories scored by the Flyers mounts, the boos grow louder.
The president of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association was irked. George Dudley took responsibility for allowing the Flyers to play for the Allan Cup, and once the Bruins joined the air force what was he supposed to do, punish them because they were too good? At the outbreak of war, the CAHA had decided that if they could help the cause by welcoming service teams in their competitions, that’s what they’d do. There were as many as 50 former professionals playing across the country, other than the Krauts.
The players themselves didn’t mind. Or at least they didn’t complain, according to The Ottawa Citizen. But sportswriter Vern DeGeer says that the heckling upset the players so much that they requested postings overseas.
They sailed for England in December of ’42. Schmidt and Dumart did — Bauer stayed back. In a dispatch from “Somewhere in England,” a Canadian Press correspondent cabled home the alarming news:
Off the ice or on, this is the farthest Schmidt and Dumart have ever strayed from Bobby Bauer, the right winger of the trio from Kitchener, Ont.
Schmidt and Dumart were both physical training instructors by now, and they were posted to separate Canadian squadrons. There was some hockey to play: most units with a rink within reach had a team in a 12-team RCAF league, and Schmidt and Dumart joined in, the latter returning to defence.
Bauer made his European hockey debut the following year. The locals from wherever-it-was-they-were so took to the game that they persuaded Schmidt to coach clinics on winter Sundays. He was a pilot officer by then, which meant that when he ran into his former linemates, they were obliged to salute him. In 1943-44 Bauer and Schmidt were teammates on the Rossmen, though they skated on different lines. The team had nothing to do with Art — their namesake was the CO of the air-station, Group Captain A.D. Ross from Sydney, Nova Scotia.
In the spring of 1944, they faced Porky Dumart’s Lancasters in the Canadian bomber group championships. The CP’s Alan Nickleson’s set the scene in a non-specific English setting:
The site of play was ludicrous by the best Canadian standards. As last season, it was staged in a canvas-topped rink with no less than 10 huge tent poles set up down the centre of the ice to hold up the canvas. Human rearguards and their wooden allies presented formidable obstacles to goal-minded opponents.
It was a two-game, total-goal series. The Rossmen won the first 5-0. To start the second, he Lancasters went up 2-0 before the Rossmen scored a goal. Bauer tied it before Schmidt scored a pair ten seconds apart. Final score: 4-3 Rossmen.
Bauer was the first to head home, in July of 1945. He’d finished another hockey season in hospital, this time with sciatica of the back and leg, which was said to have been brought on by an old hockey injury. Invalided home, he said he was only thinking about getting the war over with. “I think all the boys have their old ability but as I say we haven’t been giving much time to thinking about hockey these days.”
It was October before Schmidt and Dumart got in, sailing to Halifax aboard the Ile de France. With no more need for censorship, it could at last be revealed that they’d served their three years in Yorkshire with the Sixth Canadian Bomber Group.
They couldn’t wait to get back to the Bruins. In the papers, they were still the Krauts, though there seems to have been a brief effort, mostly in Canada, to give the Buddy Line another go. All three were on hand in Quebec City the following week for Boston’s training camp. “A few practices and we’ll be able to shake the rust off our skates and our legs,” Bauer said.
They beat their farm team, the Boston Olympics, in an October 17 exhibition by a score of 7-3. Bauer had a goal, Schmidt an assist. Paul Bibeault was in the Bruins’ net; the last Art Ross had heard from star goaltender Frank Brimsek, he was aboard a U.S. Coast Guard ship in Tokyo Bay. “We need a few more games,” said Milt Schmidt, “and then you can start passing judgment on us.”
A crowd of 13,901 was on hand at the Boston Garden when the Bruins opened the season on October 24 against Chicago. They lost, 5-4. The Boston Globe said the Kitchener Kids showed obvious signs of their absence, failing to figure in the scoring. (Reporter Gerry Moore also called them the “modern Musketeers.”)
Not a great start, but eventually the Bruins rose again. They got Brimsek back, and ended up going all the way to the Finals, where Montreal beat them in five games. Dumart ended up second in team scoring with 34 points, while Schmidt not far behind at 31. Bauer had 21. He kept his health for the first two-and-a-half games of the season until, in a 7-0 loss in Detroit, he hurt his shoulder. Dr. Tomsu of the Red Wings thought it was a separation, but Bruins’ trainer Win Green believed it was no more than a bad bruise, and he’d be back in a couple of weeks.