The Boston Bruins had a plan to raise Willie O’Ree’s number 22 to the upper reaches of the TD Garden tonight, in honour of his “trailblazing impact on and off the ice” — but then, you know, there’s this pandemic. Now, instead of a ceremony ahead of tonight’s fan-free game between the Bruins and New Jersey’s Devils, they’ll plan to do it (with full attendance, everybody hopes) on January 18, 2022 — 64 years to the day that O’Ree made his NHL debut. Of course, he wore 18 that particular night, and the next, when he and the Bruins tangled in a home-and-home series with the Montreal Canadiens. O’Ree took 22 when he returned to the Bruins’ line-up in the fall of 1960, the one seen here, with whom he played a more regular role over the course of 43 games. The first Bruin to wear 22? That would be defenceman Ed Kryzanowski, starting in 1948. Others to have borne it include Joe Klukay, Larry Hillman, Brad Park, and Brian Leetch. Shawn Thornton was the last Bruin to wear 22: it’s been out of circulation since he relinquished it in 2014.
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. Continue reading