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Opinion: Does Rocky Wirtz Get It?

The Chicago Blackhawks owner lashed out at reporters over Kyle Beach, but perhaps he should be looking in the mirror.
Rocky Wirtz

Sometimes I wonder if Rocky Wirtz sees himself as a victim of the Kyle Beach scandal.

Think about it: Here's a man who was given a moribund NHL franchise through his family and turned it into a multiple Stanley Cup champion. While his late father, Bill Wirtz, had despised the idea of broadcasting Chicago games on TV, Rocky's Blackhawks became a darling of American network hockey, hoovering up outdoor games and other marquee events to the point where they've basically run out of throwback jersey designs.

In terms of personnel, Rocky brought in one of the most legendary hockey minds of all-time in senior advisor Scotty Bowman, whose son Stan would soon be elevated in the organization to GM. The well-respected Joel Quenneville was brought in behind the bench to coach a young core that included soon-to-be cornerstones such as Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.

The end result was championships in 2010, 2013 and 2015, the first of which was the franchise's first Cup since 1961 - ending one of the longest futility streaks in the league. Rocky had overseen the transformation of the franchise from afterthought to crown jewel.

Now, it all seems tainted.

Now, that 2010 title run will forever be seen through the lens of Beach, the youngster preyed upon by then-video coach Brad Aldrich and allegedly taunted by his older teammates about the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of someone more powerful. Beach had reached out to management at the time, only to see the Cup prioritized and Aldrich allowed to hang on long enough to take part in the championship victory celebration. And since the other two titles featured much of the same crew, it's hard to look at the banners hanging from the rafters of the United Center and not turn away with a sigh and a solemn shaking of one's head.

In the wake of the investigation and lawsuit, Stan Bowman resigned, as did several other prominent executives. Quenneville, now with the Florida Panthers, did the same. Everything Rocky Wirtz built and achieved had turned to ash.

Now, from the outside, this should have been a lesson that winning at all costs does indeed come with a price: The Hawks prioritized the video-analyzing abilities of a sexual predator over the safety of one of their own players, one who wasn't going to be making an impact on their run to a title (more accurately, two players - though Beach came forward, there is also John Doe 2 who was victimized by Aldrich).

From the outside, you would think that everything the Hawks do right now would start with the question 'Are we remembering the lessons of the Kyle Beach scandal?'

But based on Rocky's reaction to reporters Mark Lazerus and Phillip Thompson at the instantly-infamous town hall meeting on Wednesday, I'm not so sure he wants to carry that burden.

Sure, Rocky was quick to send out an apology in the wake of his tirade - but that's P.R. 101 these days. For me, it's his initial visceral reaction that spoke his truth: He doesn't want to remember the past, he wants to move on.

That's a luxury reserved for people like him. Kyle Beach doesn't have that luxury, nor do any of the victims claimed by Aldrich in his post-Chicago positions; innocents that wouldn't have even been victims if the Blackhawks had raised an alarm or, you know, called the cops.

So I hope Rocky Wirtz truly understands why the world was instantly horrified by his behavior at the town hall: Hockey does not have a good track record when it comes to these things. The culture of silence and the win-at-all-costs attitude enabled Aldrich, while Beach is far from the only player who has suffered in the shadows (just look at the ongoing CHL hazing and bullying case).

If you don't want to learn from the past, Rocky, why should we trust you with the future?

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