CHICAGO (AP)- William Wirtz, owner of the Chicago Blackhawks for more than four decades, died Wednesday. He was 77.
In an announcement on the team Web site, the Blackhawks said Wirtz died at Evanston Hospital after battling cancer.
The family, led by Arthur Wirtz, purchased the Chicago Blackhawks in 1954. In 1966, William Wirtz became team president.
Wirtz was chairman of the Board of Governors of the National Hockey League
for 18 years and helped negotiate the merger of the NHL and the World Hockey Association in the late 1970's.
Together with Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, Wirtz helped back the construction of the United Center, which replaced the Chicago Stadium, the long time home for Blackhawks.
But since moving there 12 years ago, the Blackhawks have made just four playoff appearances - only two since 1997. The Blackhawks haven't played in the Stanley Cup finals in 15 years. As a result, the Blackhawks - one of the six original NHL teams - averaged about 12,700 fans per game in an arena that seats 20,500.
Wirtz often said his goal was for the team to win another Stanley Cup, but he was not known to spend lavishly on the team. That changed when club signed goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin to a four-year, $27 million contract before in 2005.
Wirtz' interest in hockey extended beyond the NHL. He served on both the 1980 and 1984 Winter Olympic
Committees. And for his efforts on both the professional and amateur levels, he Wirtz was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1976.
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