New owner leads turnaround of Chicago team

Tue May 27, 2008 3:25pm EDT
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By Ben Klayman

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Not long ago, before basketball legend Michael Jordan arrived in Chicago, roars frequently shook the rafters in an arena just west of downtown.

Chicago was hockey mad.

Greats like Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita brought a championship to the city in 1961, but the Chicago Blackhawks have not won since. Fans have suffered the longest such drought in the National Hockey League -- even as the Bears football and White Sox baseball teams celebrated titles, and the Jordan-led Bulls captured six championships in the 1990s.

The NHL's lockout three years ago that threatened to bring an entire sport to its financial knees, sent angry fans packing as players sat out the season.

The frustration was perhaps greatest in championship-starved Chicago -- where the rabid Blackhawks' fan base has also suffered ownership that didn't appear to be bothered much by mediocrity.

But now, a new owner with a familiar name wants to make Chicago a winning hockey town again, but that will involve undoing some of the harm done by his late father.

"It was anger, and then it was indifference, and that's the worst thing you can have. That turns to irrelevance," William Rockwell "Rocky" Wirtz said recently of the feelings fans increasingly felt for the team his grandfather bought in 1954.

"Chicago is a hockey town," he told Reuters in an interview from his office at family owned Wirtz Corp. "Bobby Hull was as great a superstar for people who lived in the metro Chicago area as Michael Jordan was."   Continued...

<p>Detroit Red Wings leftwing Tomas Holmstrom (R) keeps the puck from Chicago Blackhawks center Yanic Perreault (C) and defenseman Duncan Keith during the third period of their NHL hockey game in Detroit, Michigan April 6, 2008. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook</p>