CHICAGO (AP) — Rocky Wirtz, who won three Stanley Cup titles as owner of the Chicago Blackhawks and presided over the team during one of the NHL’s biggest scandals, has died. He was 70.
The Blackhawks said in a release that Wirtz died on Tuesday, calling it a “sudden passing.” No further details were provided.
“Our hearts are very heavy today,” Blackhawks CEO Danny Wirtz, Rocky’s son, said on Twitter. “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.”
Rocky Wirtz was 2 years old when his grandfather, Arthur Wirtz, purchased the Blackhawks in 1954. Rocky Wirtz took over the team after his father, William, died in September 2007.
William Wirtz was nicknamed “Dollar Bill” for his frugality when it came to acquiring the services of the game’s best players. And the team struggled, making only one playoff appearance from 1998-2008.
Everything changed when Rocky Wirtz became the team chairman. He helped re-establish the franchise’s connection to some of its best players from the past. He put the team’s games back on local TV, and the Blackhawks had a lengthy sellout streak that ended in 2021.
“The National Hockey League family is deeply saddened by the sudden passing of W. Rockwell ‘Rocky’ Wirtz,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a release. “Devoted to family and the Chicago Blackhawks, Rocky was a native son of Chicago and an accomplished businessman. Rocky took over control of the Blackhawks in 2007 and almost immediately restored the passion and following of this storied, Original Six franchise.”
With Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane leading the way, the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015. The team also made it to the 2014 Western Conference Final, losing to the Los Angeles Kings in seven games.
With the Blackhawks' success on and off the ice, Wirtz became a beloved figure in his native Chicago. He also was lauded by the NHL for his leadership.
Jerry Reinsdorf, who owns the NBA’s Chicago Bulls and baseball’s White Sox, called Wirtz a great man.
“We were far more than partners at the United Center. We were very close; he was a dear friend and our trust, our bond, was unbreakable,” Reinsdorf said in a release. “We never had a disagreement or argument during all of our many years together.
“Everyone liked Rocky. He was smart, passionate, generous, personable and friendly. He cared deeply about the Blackhawks, the people who worked for the team and at the United Center, Blackhawks fans and the city of Chicago.”
However, Wirtz’s tenure as owner was forever tarnished by the organization's response when a player said he was sexually assaulted by an assistant coach during the team’s run to the 2010 Stanley Cup title.
A review by an outside law firm, commissioned by the team in response to two lawsuits and released in October 2021, found that the franchise badly mishandled Kyle Beach’s allegations that he was assaulted by then-video coach Brad Aldrich.
The investigation by Jenner & Block found no evidence that either Rocky or Danny Wirtz was aware of the allegations before Beach’s lawsuit was brought to their attention ahead of its filing.
The Blackhawks reached a confidential settlement with Beach. Aldrich told investigators for the team’s report that his encounter with the player was consensual.
A second suit filed by a former high school student whom Aldrich was convicted of assaulting in Michigan was quietly dismissed “by stipulation or agreement.”
The NHL fined the Blackhawks $2 million for “the organization’s inadequate internal procedures and insufficient and untimely response,” and longtime general manager Stan Bowman resigned. Rocky Wirtz also successfully petitioned the Hockey Hall of Fame to have Aldrich's name removed from the Stanley Cup.
At a town hall in February 2022, Wirtz angrily rejected any conversation connected to the franchise’s response to Beach's allegations. Wirtz apologized for his remarks that same night.