Rocky Wirtz, the owner of the Chicago Blackhawks who led the team to three Stanley Cup championships, has died at the age of 70. The Blackhawks announced his “sudden passing” on Tuesday, leaving many in shock. Rocky Wirtz’s son, Blackhawks CEO Danny Wirtz, expressed the heaviness in their hearts and the significant loss felt by many. While Rocky Wirtz was known for his success as a passionate businessman and his commitment to improving Chicago, it was his devotion to his family and close friends that truly mattered to him.
Rocky Wirtz’s connection with the Blackhawks began at a young age. His grandfather, Arthur Wirtz, purchased the team in 1954 when Rocky was only 2 years old. Following the death of his father, William Wirtz, in 2007, Rocky Wirtz took over as owner. His father, nicknamed “Dollar Bill,” was known for his frugality and reluctance to invest in top players, resulting in a period of struggle for the team from 1998 to 2008, with only one playoff appearance.
However, everything changed when Rocky Wirtz assumed control. He reestablished the team’s connection with its storied past and brought back the Blackhawks’ games to local TV. Under his leadership, the Blackhawks experienced a remarkable sellout streak that lasted until 2021. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman acknowledged the impact of Rocky Wirtz’s leadership, stating that he had restored the passion and following of this Original Six franchise.
With players like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane leading the way, the Blackhawks achieved great success on the ice. They won the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013, and 2015, and also made it to the 2014 Western Conference finals. Rocky Wirtz became a familiar face to NHL commissioner Bettman as he presented him with the coveted Stanley Cup on multiple occasions. Beyond the team’s achievements, Rocky Wirtz became a beloved figure in his native Chicago and was highly respected by the NHL community.
However, Rocky Wirtz’s legacy as owner was not without controversy. The Blackhawks faced a major scandal when allegations of sexual assault by an assistant coach surfaced during their 2010 Stanley Cup run. An external investigation commissioned by the team revealed that the franchise mishandled the allegations made by Kyle Beach. The investigation found no evidence that Rocky or Danny Wirtz had prior knowledge of the allegations. The Blackhawks reached a confidential settlement with Beach, and the team was fined $2 million by the NHL for their inadequate response.
In the face of the controversy, Rocky Wirtz took action. He successfully petitioned the Hockey Hall of Fame to remove the name of the coach involved from the Stanley Cup. The team’s longtime general manager, Stan Bowman, resigned as a result of the scandal. Rocky Wirtz, however, faced criticism for his response during a town hall meeting in February 2022, where he vehemently rejected any discussion related to the franchise’s handling of the allegations. He later apologized for his remarks that same night.
Rocky Wirtz’s passing leaves a void in the hearts of many, and his impact on the Chicago Blackhawks and the city itself will not be forgotten. Despite the controversies that marred his ownership, his dedication to the team’s success and his contributions to the sport of hockey will be remembered. Rocky Wirtz will forever be recognized as a key figure in the Blackhawks’ journey to reclaiming their status as a powerhouse in the NHL.