Cup brings dream to fruition for Wirtz and McDonough
PHILADELPHIA -- John McDonough turned his head and gazed to his right so he could stare at the few thousand Blackhawks fans that remained in the stands, some pounding on the glass, during the Stanley Cup celebration on the ice at Wachovia Center.
He stared in amazement, in disbelief.
A little over three years ago, before McDonough became the team's president and Rocky Wirtz took over as chairman, the Blackhawks sometimes couldn't get that many people to come to United Center to watch them play. But here they were, well past midnight in a building 660 miles away, just because they, too, wanted to be a part of the festivities.
The Wirtz/McDonough dream came true Wednesday night when Patrick Kane delivered the overtime winner in Game 6 of the Final and the Blackhawks gave the Windy City its first Stanley Cup since 1961.
"This is a moment that hopefully we'll be able to capture for the rest of our lives," McDonough told NHL.com as he continued to stare and wave to the crowd that stayed well past midnight. "It's hard for me to take all of this in."
Wirtz took over the franchise from his father, the late Bill Wirtz, on Oct. 5, 2007. A month and a half later he hired McDonough away from the Chicago Cubs, a team he gave 24 years of his soul to.
Their goal was to grab the attention of Chicago by inviting the Blackhawks back into their living rooms, their bars, their hearts. It wasn't going to be easy -- there were so many fences to mend.
"I didn't know if we could bring it back," Wirtz said on the ice, in the middle of the celebration, with the Stanley Cup less than 10 feet away from him.
"We knew we had to go out and be aggressive to start relationships with our fans, with the former players, the media and our corporate sponsors. We didn't have, quite frankly, the right relationship with any of those people," he continued. "The idea is to put an olive branch out, and they all showed up. I'm so proud of the fans and what they've done. We couldn't do this if the fans didn't allow us to."
The fans started to buy in when they saw how energetic this new Hawks' team was going to be. Two generations may have been lost during the down years, when home games weren't even shown on local television, but they couldn't stay away now.
The Blackhawks were everywhere, and they were electric.
Jonathan Toews, already in the fold as a 2006 first-round draft pick, was ready to ascend to the NHL and evolve from Mr. Serious to Captain Serious. Patrick Kane was the flashy young kid, the No. 1 overall pick in 2007, who was supposed to meld with Toews and together be the face of this franchise.
"We knew we had to go out and be aggressive to start relationships with our fans, with the former players, the media and our corporate sponsors. We didn't have, quite frankly, the right relationship with any of those people. The idea is to put an olive branch out, and they all showed up. I'm so proud of the fans and what they've done. We couldn't do this if the fans didn't allow us to."
-- Rocky Wirtz
After falling three points shy of a playoff berth in 2008, Wirtz and McDonough opened the vault and allowed former GM Dale Tallon to sign defenseman Brian Campbell and goaltender Cristobal Huet. Four games into the following season, Joel Quenneville replaced Savard, bringing his experience and 438 wins to the bench.
"A little experience goes a long way," Wirtz said as the reason why they went with Quenneville over Savard, a former Hawks star who is still an ambassador and highly-regarded figure in the organization.
The Blackhawks brought the buzz back to Chicago in 2008-09 with the Bridgestone Winter Classic and a trip to the Western Conference Final.
With more free agents in the fold, including a 12-year deal for Marian Hossa, they followed the same slogan throughout the 2009-10 season: "One Goal."
It'll be the same way next year, and the next year and the year after that.
"There is no reason we can't make this a premier franchise for all of sports, and that was what I told John that day (he was hired)," Wirtz said. "We have a long way to go. We have one of the youngest front office staffs and we're looking to really be a premier franchise and you can't do that by sitting back and not working."
John McDonough (Getty Images)
McDonough never sat back or stopped working when he was with the Cubs, but all he could do was market the heck out of that franchise. He never got to experience winning a championship or a parade through downtown because he couldn't play a part in breaking the now 102-year curse.
That's why when Kane's goal 4:06 into overtime was made official after a short video review, McDonough said, "There was a sense of serenity that kind of washed over me. I've been in sports for 30 years in Chicago and I have seen the Bears celebrate and the Bulls' six championships, but it's indescribable."
To Wirtz, it felt "like the weight of the world fell off of my shoulders." He thought of his father, his grandfather and his uncle -- the three former patriarchs of the Blackhawks -- when he lifted the Cup over his head.
"I dedicated that Stanley Cup when I raised it to those three gentlemen because they worked their butts off for so long to achieve it," Wirtz said.
Wirtz and McDonough won't stop working so they can achieve it again, and again, and again, and again.
They want a dynasty in Chicago.
"This feeling is indescribable," McDonough said. "I'm so proud to be in the NHL."