Blackhawks Owner Rocky Wirtz Dies at 70

Chicago Blackhawks owner Rockwell “Rocky” Wirtz died Tuesday at NorthShore Evanston Hospital after a brief illness, according to a statement from his family.

“Our dad was a passionate businessman committed to making Chicago a great place to live, work and visit, but his true love was for his family and close friends,” Danny Wirtz said about the “sudden passing” of his father.

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Rocky took over as principal owner of the Blackhawks in 2007 after the death of his father Bill. He helped revive the Original Six franchise on and off the ice, a franchise his grandfather, Arthur Wirtz, originally purchased in 1954.

The team had sunk to the bottom of the NHL’s attendance standings—only the Blues were worse during the 2006-07 season. One of his first moves was putting home games back on television, reversing an extremely unpopular decision Bill had made. Fans tuned in and started showing up at the United Center, which is 50% owned by the Wirtz family, with Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf controlling the other 50%.

The Blackhawks had made only one playoff appearance in 10 years when Rocky became owner, but he invested significantly in the Hawks, and they made the postseason the next nine seasons in a row, highlighted by three Stanley Cup titles under coach Joel Quenneville—the team’s first championships since 1961. The team sold out 535 straight games at the United Center starting in 2008.

“The National Hockey League family is deeply saddened by the sudden passing of W. Rockwell ‘Rocky’ Wirtz,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “Rocky’s focus on connecting with the club’s fans and improving the team’s performance on the ice rekindled Chicago fans’ love affair with their hockey team and built a modern dynasty.”

It has been a struggle for the franchise in recent years. Attendance fell to the bottom half of the league last year after finishing first as recently as the 2019-20 season. The Blackhawks have made only one playoff appearance during the past six years.

In 2021, Wirtz faced harsh scrutiny after investigation details were released showing how the Blackhawks mishandled sexual assault allegations made by former player Kyle Beach against then-video coach Brad Aldrich during the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The investigation found that Wirtz was not aware of the allegations before the lawsuit was filed, but numerous executives were fired or resigned after the scandal. Wirtz and the Blackhawks ultimately resolved their lawsuit with Beach via a confidential settlement. Wirtz hadn’t made a public appearance since March 2022.

The Chicago faithful have hope again after the club drafted generational prospect Connor Bedard in June. Last year, Sportico valued the club at $1.44 billion, fourth-best in the NHL.

“On a personal level, Rocky was a dear friend whose counsel I consistently sought,” Bettman said. “He was a highly respected member of the Executive Committee of the League’s Board of Governors whose wisdom and camaraderie were valued by his fellow owners.

Wirtz is survived by his wife Marilyn; children Danny, Hillary and Kendall; Marilyn’s daughter Elizabeth; and six grandchildren.

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