Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz died Tuesday at age 70 after a brief illness.
The team confirmed the news on Tuesday evening after it was first reported by the Daily Herald and Chicago Sun-Times.
Wirtz took control of the Blackhawks after his father Bill’s passing in 2007 and oversaw the most successful period in team history with the Blackhawks winning Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015. Wirtz returned home games to television, brought announcer Pat Foley back into the fold and mended relationships with former Blackhawks alumni.
In later years, Wirtz spearheaded an expansion of the United Center campus and the building of the team’s Fifth Third practice arena nearby. In addition to leading the Blackhawks, Wirtz was a towering figure in Chicago business, leading the family’s liquor distribution company Breakthru Beverage.
“Our hearts are very heavy today,” son Danny Wirtz said in a statement issued by the team. “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.”
Wirtz was a popular presence in the 100-level during the championship run, often seen shaking hands and celebrating the latest Blackhawks wins. In a city starved for good ownership, Wirtz was seen as the exception to the rule.
The championship era, however, took a hit with the findings that a coaching staff member sexually assaulted former Blackhawks prospect Kyle Beach during the 2010 title run. Though an investigation found that Wirtz was unaware of the allegations at the time, his brusque response to a question about the scandal at a 2022 town hall meeting attracted a lot of criticism and he later apologized.
Wirtz was the fifth owner in franchise history and the third Wirtz, following in the footsteps of his grandfather Arthur and his father, Bill. Rocky’s son Danny became the team’s CEO in 2020.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman also released a statement on Tuesday night.
“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 passions and following of this storied, Original Six franchise,” Bettman wrote.
“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.”
Wirtz’s fellow Chicago sports team owners also weighed in with their own statements.
“This is just shocking news and I am personally devastated,” Bulls and White Sox team owner Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement.