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Culture shock hits Hawks
As Rocky Wirtz takes control of hockey operations, fans can expect an owner who will spend to put a solid product on the ice
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff

The United Center has been a lonely place to be on many hockey nights the past few years. Hawks fans, however, may have something to cheer about with Rocky Wirtz taking control of the team’s operations Friday.

 

John Starks | Staff Photographer

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Published: 10/5/2007 11:39 PM

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In a twist that not even Blackhawks insiders saw coming, Rocky Wirtz was appointed chairman of the club Friday with brother Peter Wirtz resigning as vice president.

Rocky Wirtz takes over the operation of the team from his late father, Bill Wirtz, and will be the man solely in charge of the Hawks.

The decision by Peter Wirtz to leave the hockey end of the family empire was met with shock at the United Center. The younger Wirtz will retain his role as president of Bismarck Enterprises, which he founded in 1983.

"It threw me for a loop, and I think Rocky, too," said Hawks general manager Dale Tallon.

Rocky Wirtz was not available for comment and, like his father, is not going to be an owner who speaks often to the media.

"He's a low-profile guy," Tallon said.

According to Jim DeMaria, executive director of communications, Tallon will serve as team spokesman on all hockey related matters.

Rocky Wirtz did issue a statement through the club.

"While I had hoped that Peter would stay on and help in rebuilding the Chicago Blackhawks into a winning and successful franchise, I respect his decision," Rocky Wirtz said. "He has worked at my father's side for many years and has decided, at this time, to change his focus.

"Peter will continue in leading Bismarck Enterprises and has pledged his complete support and loyalty to me and to the Chicago Blackhawks."

Rocky Wirtz said Tallon would remain as GM and Denis Savard as coach. Both are signed through the 2008-09 season.

Bob Pulford will remain in his advisory position as the Hawks' senior vice president.

"In my new role, I look forward to working with general manager Dale Tallon and head coach Denis Savard," Wirtz said. "I feel the team is in good hands under Dale's guidance and leadership. We are all focused on putting a winning team on the ice and winning the Stanley Cup."

According to a Hawks source, Rocky Wirtz has pledged to spend whatever it takes to put a winning team on the ice, news that likely will be viewed by Hawks fans as a critical shift in club philosophy.

"Rocky believes in spending money to make money," said the source, who also believes the policy of not televising home games could change before the start of next season.

Rocky Wirtz had been running the family-owned liquor distributor Judge & Dolph, which is the largest in Illinois.

Tallon had a brief talk with his new boss Friday morning and heard what he wanted to hear.

"All I needed to hear was that he was 100 percent behind what we are trying to do," Tallon said. "He wants to do whatever it takes to win.

"I think there will be some changes and there will be positive changes as we move forward. He wants our fans to come back and to please them. I'm sure he'll look at the big picture and what needs to change to make us better."

Peter Wirtz issued his own statement through the team and also released a letter he wrote to Hawks fans.

"My brother Rocky brings with him a wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm from my family's other businesses, and I know he will be successful in leading and directing the Blackhawks for many years to come," Peter Wirtz said in his statement.

"As chairman of the Blackhawks, Rocky will have my full and complete cooperation and support during this period of transition. I know Rocky, Dale and Denis are committed to bringing our fans a championship."

In his letter, Peter Wirtz said he had given a lot of thought to his future following the death of his father on Sept. 26 from cancer.

"With my father gone, I have served this tour of duty with the Blackhawks and have chosen to step down so that my bother Rocky can instill new and fresh leadership into the organization," Peter Wirtz wrote.

"Through Rocky's leadership and Dale Tallon's and Denis Savard's commitment to winning the Stanley Cup, our fans will have a lot to cheer about for many years to come."

Wirtz said in his letter that he would serve as a co-executor and trustee to his father's estate.