The Blackhawks Web site was the first to announce that Wirtz had died Wednesday at Evanston Hospital after battling cancer. The AP fills in the details:
The family, led by Arthur Wirtz, purchased the Chicago Blackhawks in 1954. In 1966, William Wirtz became team president. Wirtz was chairman of the Board of Governors of the National Hockey League for 18 years and helped negotiate the merger of the NHL and the World Hockey Association in the late 1970's.Over on WirtzSucks.com, one of the more overtly hostile critics of his ownership of the team, the message board is just starting to attract the kind of conflicted tributes one might expect on a day like this. Mr. Miller, the site owner who I've interviewed in the past, writes that, "it's odd -- now that he's gone, i have to admit, i'm a little bummed. at the very least, i'm not as 'happy' as i always claimed i'd be when this day would come." Another post sums up the feelings for many Chicago hockey fans, I imagine: "GOOD FOR HOCKEY BAD FOR FAMILY...."
Together with Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, Wirtz helped back the construction of the United Center, which replaced the Chicago Stadium, the long-time home for Blackhawks. But since moving there 12 years ago, the Blackhawks have made just four playoff appearances - only two since 1997. The Blackhawks haven't played in the Stanley Cup finals in 15 years. As a result, the Blackhawks - one of the six original NHL teams - average about 12,700 fans per game in an arena that seats 20,500.
Keep an eye on the Chicago Sun-Times Blackhawks page for more details and coverage. The Forechecker was one of the first bloggers to offer a comment on the death, and Eric McErlain's FanHouse piece on Wirtz potentially selling the 'Hawks provides further context on the controversial hockey legend.