"I love it - dog eat dog, two good teams going up and down, rapping each other. Just as long as the sticks don't start flying."
This appreciation of the Boston Bruins-Philadelphia Flyers playoff series was delivered by a silver-haired gentleman, just turned 60, wearing a Bruins Stanley Cup ring, as he watched the Bruins practice in Boston recently.
Milt Schmidt is a guy who always liked the rough going, as a player for Boston's Stanley Cup champions of 1939 and 1941, as a wartime member of the Canadian Air Force, as general manager of the Bruins' championship teams in 1970 and 1972. Only as general manager of the Washington Capitals did Schmidt find the obstacles overwhelming.
Schmidt was the man assigned the impossible job of building a winner in Washington from the dregs NHL clubs provided in the 1974 expansion draft.After 1 1/2 seasons, he was gone, yet he bears no ill will.
"I hope the Caps can do it," he said. "I still love the people there. There were a few things about the way they handled it when I left, but on the whole I can't complain. People said Abe Pollin was more interested in basketball, but I know one thing. The way he has poured dollars into that team trying to make it go, he has to be interested in hockey."
Schmidt, however, can't forgive the other NHL clubs for the way they protected virtually everyone with a modicum of talent.
"One thing the Caps will never get is any help from the NHL," Schmidt said. "I fought over that protected list.We had a meeting in New York and I held out, even though Sid Abel (the Kansas City general manager) gave in. Finally, they said they would have to hold another meeting and bring in the governors. I said the hell with it."
Schmidt confirmed that Bobby Kromm, the likely coach of the year for resurrecting Detroit this season, was his top choice to guide the first-year Capitals. But Kromm was coaching Dallas, a Chicago farm club, and General Manager Tommy Ivan would not permit Schmidt to contact Kromm.
"I asked Ivan to talk to Kromm," Schmidt said, "and he asked me if I would guarantee Kromm the job. I told him I coundn't do that, the guy might want $200,000 a year or something. So he said I couldn't talk to him, because it might make him dissatisfied."
So Schmidt hired Jimmy Anderson, who struggled to a 4-45-5 record, replaced him with Red Sullivan (2-17-0) and eventually tried coaching the team himself (5-33-5) before he was fired Dec. 29, 1975.
Schmidt is now director of corporate season-ticket sales for the Bruins, performs public relations duties and serves as host in a Boston Garden lounge. Still, he often tuned in the Capitals' radio broadcasts on WTOP.
"It's too bad they dropped back this year," Schmidt said. "It has to be hurting Tommy McVie, even if he doesn't show it. I know how much it hurts."
Schmidt appears to be in fine health, but he said a problem with his left hip - "I guess it's old age" - has affected his golf swing, forced him to reduce his jogging and given him considerable pain. He will probably require surgery soon. Nevertheless, he has an urge to return to the hockey routine.
"I'd like to be an assistant coach," Schmidt said. "I could scout future opponents, then work with the coach on game preparations. I could watch from up above and help out, too."
Schmidt first came to Boston in 1936, and he was amused by recent talk about a new arena at South Station.
"They were talking about a new building in 1936." Schmidt said. "I don't think I'll live long enough to see it."