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Wirtz talks all things Blackhawks

Tuesday, 12.09.2008 / 11:00 AM / Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic 2009

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

"I'm looking at it s a fan, and as a fan if you can relate to the player, than it's even greater. There is not a player on the Hawks that you wouldn't invite into your home for Thanksgiving. That says a lot."
-- Rocky Wirtz

Since taking over as the chairman of the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 5, 2007 - his 55th birthday - Rocky Wirtz has been at the forefront of the team's resurgence. He recently gave NHL.com an exclusive interview on a wide-ranging list of topics.

Here is a snippet of what Wirtz had to say:

NHL.com -- Where will you sit for Winter Classic?

RW -- It's a good question. I'll have a seat outside, but I'm going to work as much as I can for those people that are there, different sponsors and honored guests. I don't think I'm going to see my wife a lot during the game. I know the better seats are up higher but I'd rather be a little lower. I have a jacket picked out and warm gloves and I'm ready."

NHL.com -- Can you sum up or generalize what the Winter Classic means for the Hawks and Chicago?

RW -- What it does it puts people in position to be saying, 'How can you be playing hockey at Wrigley Field?' So, people that just hear about hockey can be exposed to it. We have such terrific baseball fans from both the north and south side, so you'll have people that would normally never set foot in Wrigley Field unless the White Sox are playing there come to the game. It really helps legitimize our sport to a much bigger fan base that would never look twice at it or read about it. It takes people out of their traditional thinking."

NHL.com -- Not to speak ill of your father, the late Bill Wirtz, but what did you think of his business principles?

Rocky Wirtz -- What I respect about him is he was a principled man and he wasn't going to waver for any outside influence. He believed in what he believed in and that's a good thing. I worked very closely with him. He wanted to make sure that this company would prosper and grow and that meant if you needed to make changes, you make changes. He would encourage those things. He just might not agree with them.

NHL.com -- When I mention John McDonough to you, what is the first thing that comes to mind?

RW -- The first thing I think of is that he transformed a sleepy organization like the Chicago Cubs into America's team and to do that there were a lot of different factors. He needed broadcast partners to do it. He needed to develop an atmosphere that people wanted to come to the ballpark. We want to do the same thing so John can develop the fan experience as being second to none, and then you can put that on television and broadcast it on the radio so the experience is so great that you have to be there.

NHL.com --
You have some incredible young players now. What do you think of the guys on the team?

RW -- I'm looking at it s a fan, and as a fan if you can relate to the player, than it's even greater. There is not a player on the Hawks that you wouldn't invite into your home for Thanksgiving. That says a lot. That is very important because when people start looking at these players as regular human beings, and I'm talking about 17- or 18-year-old girls, they can say, 'I could date that man (Patrick Kane), he's my age.' They're individuals who just happen to be playing the world's greatest sport. They are very decent young men and that's what you want to get across.

 
NHL.com -- Jonathan Toews is unique being so young and a team captain, don't you think?

RW --
Certain players have that God-given ability. There's not many in the League like him. You could count them on one hand. He has that ability to be the first on the ice and the last off but also not to be a brown-noser. When you can take a 20-year vet and he can look up to this young man…that's the aura about him. That's a God-given ability.

NHL.com -- We heard you sit in the stands during home games. Where?

RW --
I sit in one of the corners on the aisle by the Blackhawks' home goal so you can see the plays develop. I always sat there before dad passed away and now after he passed away, too.

NHL.com -- What do you have in common with your father?

RW -- We were both born on the same day (Oct. 5), so we have a lot of commonality. I was more like him than dislike him, but he was a CPA and tended to be more on the cost side of it and I'm on the sales side of it. We were a lot alike. In meetings you could see the similarities, but maybe it's a little combination of my dad and my grandfather. My grandfather was also a CPA, but he was financially driven. He was a real entrepreneur.

NHL.com -- A recent Forbes Magazine article listing the net worth of all 30 NHL franchises showed the Blackhawks have gone up in worth by $26 million and are now the 14th most valuable NHL franchise. To you, does that prove, at least on paper, the strides the franchise has made?

RW -- It's always nice to have a third party tell you how much your business is worth. It doesn't matter to us, but it's nice and will be interesting to see what they say next year. Hopefully someone looking in from 40,000 feet will say they think the value of this business has increased.

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com.