CHICAGO – Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz apologized Wednesday night after he angrily rejected any conversation connected to the franchise's response when a player said he was sexually assaulted by an assistant coach.
Wirtz made his remarks at a town hall. It was the first time the franchise’s top leaders had faced questions in public since the team published a report by an outside law firm that found the organization badly mishandled Kyle Beach’s allegations that he was assaulted by then-video coach Brad Aldrich during the team’s run to the 2010 Stanley Cup title.
“Tonight, at the Chicago Blackhawks town hall, my response to two questions crossed the line," Wirtz said in a release. "I want to apologize to the fans and those reporters, and I regret that my response overshadowed the great work this organization is doing to move forward. We have the right leaders and right processes in place to create a safe environment for our employees and players.”
The town hall on a snowy night in Chicago was supposed to be the latest step in the franchise’s work to repair its tattered reputation. But it was derailed by Wirtz's response when a reporter tried to ask Danny Wirtz, Rocky's son and the team's CEO, about what the organization was doing to address the power dynamic between players and coaches in light of Beach's accusations.
“I'm going to answer the question, not Danny,” Rocky Wirtz said. “I think the report speaks for itself. The people that were involved are no longer here. We're not looking back at 2010, we're looking forward. And we're not going to talk about 2010.”
When Danny Wirtz tried to respond, Rocky Wirtz cut off his son and said it was none of the reporter's business. Asked how it wasn't the reporter's business, Rocky Wirtz responded: “You don't work for the company.”
“If somebody in the company asks that question, we'll answer it,” Wirtz continued. “And I think you should get on to the next subject. We're not going to talk about Kyle Beach. We're not going to talk about anything that happened. Now we're moving on. What more do I have to say?”
Wirtz also repeatedly interrupted a follow-up question by a second reporter. “Why do you bring up old business?” Wirtz said.
Wirtz's outburst calls into question the direction of the franchise — once regarded as one of the NHL's best organizations — as it looks for new leadership for its hockey operations department. The slumping team had dropped six of seven heading into Wednesday night's matchup with Minnesota, and attendance is down.
Longtime general manager Stan Bowman resigned after the review by Jenner & Block was finished in October, and Al MacIsaac, another top hockey executive with the Blackhawks, also departed the organization. The NHL fined the team $2 million for “the organization’s inadequate internal procedures and insufficient and untimely response.”
After taking a comprehensive look at the structure at its hockey operations structure, the team plans to begin interviewing GM candidates this week.
“One of the things we will be asking every general manager who comes into the interview process is how are they going to help change the culture of hockey,” Danny Wirtz said during the town hall. “I think it's critical for anybody in a leadership position to set that example, to set the tone within the organization to ensure that we create a safe place for our players to play.”
The Blackhawks reached a confidential settlement with Beach after the lawsuit by the former first-round pick brought his allegations to the forefront. Aldrich told investigators for the team's report that the encounter was consensual.
A second suit filed by a former high school student whom Aldrich was convicted of assaulting in Michigan was quietly dismissed “by stipulation or agreement” in December.
The investigation commissioned by the team found no evidence that Rocky or Danny Wirtz were aware of the allegations before Beach’s lawsuit was brought to their attention ahead of its filing. President of Business Operations Jaime Faulkner, who also participated in the town hall, was hired in December 2020.
Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap
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