These Are Rocky's Hawks

Dave MorrisContributor IJuly 27, 2009

These are not, as they say, "Your Father's Blackhawks."

Not the Hawks teams of "Dollar Bill", the controversial William Wadsworth Wirtz.

Not in terms of their performance, nor their business model.

But they may yet resemble the team owned by Granddaddy Wirtz himself--along with the mercurial Jimmy Norris. The team that gave Arthur Wirtz and Norris Chicago's last Stanley Cup.

With all the excitement that surrounded the Hawks' resurgence last season, the romance threatened to cool in the off-season...and fed what some might describe as the perennial pessimism among Hawkey lovers.

So it is significant that Rocky Wirtz made the definitive statement on this issue. In the recent Chicago Tribune article, Wirtz presented a clear and concise view of the Marian Hossa signing and subsequent revelations. From the July 26 article:

"Dr. Terry looked at the MRIs before we signed," Wirtz said. "There was still a chance he didn't need an operation. It's a small tear, we knew that. We thought it was 50-50 he could play with it. We knew exactly what it was. It wasn't where it was questionable or it would be severe. Dr. Terry, one of his specialties is shoulders, and he said he'll miss 19 to 20 games. It could be longer, of course. You have to depend on his advice. That's what he's telling us."

After some public faux pas by Blackhawks President John McDonough in the wake of a succession of front office errors, Wirtz evidently decided the best course of action was to step out in front of the media himself.

As owner, Wirtz has final say, though he is generally self-effacing. But the series of situations fuelled by a media feeding frenzy and fan discontent sent a signal Wirtz clearly recognized.

A recent Tribune poll--admittedly non-scientific--with over 2000 respondents, showed a slim majority, but a majority nonetheless, of Hawks fans essentially wishing Hossa hadn't been signed.

Like his father Arthur and his grandfather William W. before him, William Rockwell Wirtz no doubt understands that hockey is, above all, both blood sport and entertainment business.

The passion of the hockey fan is nothing if not irrational. Where ecstasy, loyalty, defeatism and denial go hand in glove--for the 'fan' is a fanatic if nothing else--the cheers turn to jeers in scant seconds.

Rocky Wirtz has heard them all. He once remarked laconically to John McDonough at a press conference, "Now you know what it's like to be a Wirtz in this town."

If one examines the progress the team has made under his stewardship, two things emerge.

One, Wirtz expects results.

Two, Wirtz is a realist.

An insider from the Hawks organization was quoted, “Rocky Wirtz believes in spending money to make money". Wirtz has given his executives the power to go out and buy the talent that has helped the Blackhawks rocket from the depths of the Western Conference to the Conference Finals; and 65 points to 104 points in just four years.

The leading business journals sing the praises of the Hawks' business model, and no other pro sports franchise has demonstrated such a dramatic uptick in revenue over such a short period.

Of course, with success comes jealousy and resentment from the fickle media, not to mention the cackling of fans whose favourites are suddenly being beaten by a resurgent Blackhawks squad.

It was expected the cynics would howl about the so-called 'salary cap crisis' coming in June 2010. The mocking of the Campbell and Huet contracts has become a battle cry for the new anti-Hawk contingent, led, of course, by those who kiss the scarlet cloaks of the long time rivals from Detroit.

It was even more obvious that the megadeal for Marian Hossa--one of finest forwards in the game and one of the few players in the NHL to go to the Stanley Cup Finals two years in a row--would be met with derision, especially when Hossa's injury was revealed.

One supposes Wirtz knows taking the punches is part of show business. So Rocky, like the fictional fighter of the movies, just keeps on slugging it out. It's also reasonable to believe he knows you don't win on style or points. It's last man standing.

He may be thinking about his grandfather's singular accomplishment, and his father's near misses. It is clear William Rockwell Wirtz has set himself the goal of bringing the Stanley Cup back to Chicago for the first time in almost half a century.

So from what we have seen, he does what he thinks he must do, whether it meets with the public and media's approval, or not.

As wealthy as the Wirtz family is, and as successful as the conglomerate of companies he controls, Rocky Wirtz can afford to do things his way.

This is a long term project. And the young Blackhawks are ahead of schedule.

One course of action Blackhawks faithful might consider, would be to heed Marian Hossa's words when asked about the Hawks' Cup chances. "Step by step," he said. "We're gonna go up the hill..."

While there are those who try to paint Marian Hossa as an opportunist, they ignore--or are possibly ignorant of--Hossa's consistently excellent play, whether with winners (like the Pens and Wings) or losers (like the Thrashers), as well as his significant charity efforts to help underprivileged children.

He deserves respect for his desire to dedicate himself to winning the Cup, for seeking out the team that he believes is the right one for him, and committing long term...even though he has been thoroughly chastised for it.

These same critics know little about his character. Hossa's country, his culture, and the region where he was born, all play an important part role. Slovakia is also known for a Hawk legend...Stanislaus Gvoth, better known as Stan Mikita.

Did Rocky Wirtz recognize this in Hossa, and does he see some serendipity there? A question we would ask Mr. Wirtz, given the chance. 

And character is a factor for Rocky can count on it.

For anyone who grew up a Hawks loyalist, whether in Chicago, or in the far flung reaches of the hockey world, and watched the Black Hawks win that Cup back in '61, they know that being a Blackhawk is all about character.

It is most definitely NOT about the easy road.

The Marvel of Marvelville, Ontario, legendary Habs defenseman Larry Robinson, was a Blackhawks fan as a boy...and some would say, "Wouldn't he have been perfect wearing the Indian Head?"

Wirtz The Younger demonstrates the tenacity and subtlety of his grandfather...if the way he speaks and presents himself, from what we see in public, is an accurate reflection of the man. 

Seeing the teams come so tantalizingly close (with fourteen combined league, conference and division Championships, and five Stanley Cup Finals appearances); the stumbles of the previous decade; and the resurgence; over so many would understand if Rocky Wirtz's own perspective is appropriately mitigated.

But Wirtz let it slip during last year's playoff run. "I don't see any reason why we can't go all the way."

William Rockwell Wirtz does not accept excuses. Progress is encouraging, but nothing has been won yet.

So what's next for the Chicago Blackhawks?

One word in Slovak--and one the Slovaks are fond of--says it perfectly...Uvidíme.

'We shall see'.

And there are those who see a Stanley Cup not far away.

Because these are not 'Dollar Bill''s Hawks. They are Rocky's Hawks.


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