Chicago Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz dead at 70

William Rockwell “Rocky” Wirtz, the principal owner and chairman of the Chicago Blackhawks, has died, the Blackhawks announced Tuesday. He was 70.

In a statement, the Blackhawks said Wirtz died in hospital surrounded by family after a brief illness.

“Our hearts are very heavy today,” Danny Wirtz, Blackhawks CEO and son of Rocky, said in a statement. “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…. His passing leaves a huge hole in the hearts of many and we will miss him terribly.”

Wirtz was the third generation of one of the NHL’s most powerful families, inheriting the Blackhawks from his father Bill in 2007. Wirtz’s grandfather Arthur initially invested in the Blackhawks in 1954.

Under Wirtz’s leadership, the Blackhawks quickly rose to become a perennial Stanley Cup contender after a decade in which they only made the playoffs once. The Blackhawks won three Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015, and reached the playoffs in nine consecutive seasons from 2009 to 2017. Beyond the Blackhawks, Wirtz served as a member of the NHL’s Executive and Audit/Finance Committees.

“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…

“On a personal level, Rocky was a dear friend whose counsel I consistently sought. 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.”

Despite the on-ice success, Wirtz’s legacy is tainted by his organization’s handling of sexual assault allegations made by two players against former video coach Brad Aldrich during the club’s run to the Stanley Cup in 2010. Although a report commissioned by the NHL in 2021 concluded that Wirtz was not aware of the allegations at the time, the NHL fined the Blackhawks $2 million and saw a number of prominent leaders within the organization resign in disgrace. In one of his last public appearances, Wirtz became agitated with reporters asking questions about the Aldrich scandal during an organization town hall in early 2022. He later apologized for his comments.

Danny Wirtz succeeded his father as CEO of the Blackhawks in December 2020.

The Blackhawks are in the midst of significant changes on the ice with franchise icons Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews moving on and phenom Connor Bedard — the first overall pick in last month’s NHL Draft — arriving next season. Now, with Wirtz’s death, the organization will also enter into a new era off the ice as it tries to return to contending for championships.

Wirtz is survived by his wife Marilyn, four children and six grandchildren.

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