Sunday, April 11, 2021

Bobby Schmautz was a real beauty

Seemingly little noticed in their current COVID crisis, the Canucks lost an all-timer two weeks ago. Bobby Schmautz was acquired by the Canucks during their first year in the NHL because they well understood from their WHL days how good the Schmautzes were. Bobby had scored 27 the year before for Seattle. Cliff, who was six years older, had 40 that year for Portland, for whom he had 46 a few years earlier. Arnie, who was six years older yet, retired in 1968 after 13 WHL seasons with Portland, Victoria, and New Westminster. He was listed at 5-7, 140. Cliff was 5-9, 170 and played one year in the NHL after being claimed from Portland by Buffalo during its maiden season in something called the intraleague draft. 

Bobby, who was only 5-9, 155, already had a dozen NHL goals, having played 76 games for Chicago from 1967-69. He started the 1970-71 season with Seattle, but is listed as having been traded to the Canucks for Jim Wiste and Ed "Sock" Hatoum. WTF? I thought Seattle was Vancouver's farm team, but for their first two years in the NHL it was Rochester of the AHL, where Don Cherry took over the reins in mid-season 1971-72. Seattle was our farm team by the next year, as I recall beetling down there in my old VW to watch them play for Phil Maloney in the Seattle Center Coliseum, which is the same place where the Kraken will soon play. Well, after a few renovations. That's how futuristic it was when it was built in 1962 for the World's Fair. But I digress.

Within a few years, Schmautzie was flinging the puck into the net with great regularity for the Canucks, scoring 38 goals in 1973-74, including seven in a two-game span. He could also chuck the knuckles adroitly despite his slender size, picking up 137 PiMs in 1972-73. It helped that he was fearless, and even a little bit psycho. The Canucks flipped him to the Bruins the next season for Mike “Shaky” Walton, Chris Oddleifson, and the rights to Fred O'Donnell, who stayed in Boston to play for the New England Whalers of the WHA rather than move to Vancouver. It was the biggest favour the Canucks could have done for Schmautz, who broke the 20-goal mark five straight seasons for the Bruins and played in two All-Star games. He also scored 26 goals for them in 70 playoff games, equaling the career total of the great Bobby Orr. The Canucks played 10 playoff games over the same period, winning one. The most famous goal Schmautz scored was the OT winner in 1978 against Montreal in Game Four of the 1978 Stanley Cup final, which evened the series at 2-2. Schmautz even turned into an accomplished checker under Cherry.

Many Canucks fans forget that Schmautz rejoined the team for one last season at age 35 in 1980-81. He was second in goals that year, with 27 in 73 games. He also racked up 137 PiMs, matching his career high. I remember that season well, as I briefly had an NHL press pass then as a writer for Hockey magazine. One game in particular stands out to me – February 18 against his old Bruins. The bad guys were leading 6-1 when a bench-clearing brawl erupted early in the third period, out of which 70 minutes in penalties were issued. Ah, those were the days! Schmautzie then led a furious comeback, scoring twice on Rogie Vachon in a span of 3:42, sandwiching a goal by Curt Fraser. That made it 6-4, after which unpleasantries broke out several more times, with Tiger Williams fighting Brad Park and Stan Smyl mixing it up with Stan Jonathan. Fraser and Terry O'Rielly went at it twice. Unfortunately the comeback fell a bit short, but I swear that was one of the best games I ever watched. I recall fairly glowing as I walked out of the Coliseum.

The Canucks declined to offer Schmautz a contract the following season. No other team did, either, so he returned to Portland and went into roofing, later retiring to Arizona. He died on March 28, which  coincidentally was his 76th birthday.

Cheers, Schmautzie!

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