Chicago Blackhawks Thankful For John McDonough After 10 Years
By Randy Holndoner
Rocky Wirtz took over ownership of the Chicago Blackhawks when his father, Bill Wirtz passed away on Sept. 26, 2007. Less than a month later, and 10 years ago Monday, he made his biggest business decision.
That aforementioned decision was luring John McDonough away from Chicago Cubs to become president of the Chicago Blackhawks.
McDonough, then 54, spent 24 years with the Chicago Cubs organization before agreeing to become part of the Blackhawks family. He left at a time where the Cubs had just finished winning the Central Division in front of a packed house at Wrigley Field.
What McDonough has done since he has come to the Blackkhawks has been nothing but find success. When McDonough came on, you could get 300 Level seats for 10 in some sections, $15 in others, and have that entire section to yourself. Since the 2008-09 season, according to an attendance tracker via ESPN, the Blackhawks have led attendance marks throughout the NHL, home and road, seven of the last eight years. They lead this year as well.
Incredibly at home, they have averaged standing room only crowds since the 2008-09 season. In the 2013-14 season, they averaged an incredible 117.6 percent of capacity. McDonough is directly responsible for that. In May 2009, Forbes dubbed the turnaround of the Blackhawks franchise “The Greatest Sports-Business Turnaround Ever.”
McDonough brought back all Blackhawks home games to television. Yes, you heard me right. Blackhawks home games were not televised. Wirtz and McDonough brought them back to television in April, 2008. This is how bad things were with the truly diehard Blackhawks fans and Blackhawks management.
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Due to the business decisions of Bill Wirtz, they lost a generation of fans. Between McDonough and Rocky Wirtz, a new regime was in town, and things were going to be different. Boy were they ever.
Times are changing
McDonough brought his idea over from the Cubs to have a Blackhawks Convention where fans and players meet. For a full weekend, fans from everywhere gather for a chance of an autograph, or sit in on a panel of current and past players who wore the Indian Head. There is also a designated area for kids to play games and test their hockey skills.
During the start of the 2008-09 season, a change was made behind the bench, when Blackhawks Hall of Famer Denis Savard was replaced with Joel Quenneville just four games into the season. In Quenneville’s first year, the Blackhawks would surge their way to the conference finals under the starpower of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith.
During that time as well, the Winter Classic outdoor hockey game was played at Wrigley Field with the Blackhawks facing their biggest rival, the Detroit Red Wings. No one would have thought that this rare occurrence would happen again, let alone five more times, including the recently announced 2019 Winter Classic at Notre Dame against the Boston Bruins.
The NHL’s cash cow has been the Blackhawks, and whenever there is a chance to get them nationally televised, they are doing so, with McDonough bending the ear of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
Lord Stanley comes home
In 2009-10, 49 years of waiting came to an end when Kane’s overtime goal in Game 6 against the Philadelphia Flyers brought Lord Stanley back to Chicago. To everyone’s astonishment, over 2,000,000 fans showed up for the ticker-tape parade to get a glance at the Stanley Cup and those who brought it back to Chicago.
Shortly after that moment, that team was torn down due to the salary cap implications. McDonough, who recently promoted Stan Bowman to general manager, was tapped to dissect a champion and keep it competitive.
Bowman was not liked after trading away star players like Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg while they still smelled of celebratory champagne. But by trading these fan favorites and others down the road, draft picks have been successful and the team would stay competitive.
Once, twice, thrice
Many bucket lists, including mine, had a scratch through them seeing a Blackhawks Stanley Cup championship. But to see not one more, but two more within six years?! Ask any fan back in 2006 if the Blackhawks would have won three Stanley Cups in the next 10 years.
If they didn’t verbally abuse you or call an insane asylum on you, I’d be surprised. But that is what happened. The year 2013 saw the Blackhawks beat the Boston Bruins in the historic “17 seconds,” where they scored two goals in that amount of time to steal Game 6 in Boston to capture the Cup.
The steps that McDonough has brought to the the Blackhawks organization in the last 10 years cannot be matched by anyone. He turned this franchise around with a complete 180-degree swing.
This summer, the Blackhawks hosted the 2017 NHL Entry Draft to huge success. McDonough must have a Bat phone to Commissioner Bettman’s office for the amount of tugging he does to host things in Chicago. I’m waiting for the NHL All-Star Game net. It has been 27 years.
Shortly before the start of this season, the Blackhawks finished construction on a new practice facility that will also be used by the community. The need to give back to the community is something that McDonough knows can build a solid fan base for years to come.
I met McDonough at the first Blackhawks Convention in the summer of 2008. As he was signing my Blackhawks sweater, I thanked him for what he had done. He stopped writing, looked up at me, looked me straight in the eye and added, “So far.” How right he was.
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During this festive and thankful season, all Blackhawks fans should make a toast and be thankful for McDonough. A toast to you, Mr. McDonough. Here is to the next 10 years.