Jim O'Donnell: Former Blackhawks exec says Bill Wirtz would never have allowed abuse scandal to happen
THE SIGN MIGHT AS WELL HANG between two hot-air balloons above the United Center every day until it is conclusively and provably answered:
What did Rocky Wirtz know and when did he know it?
The opposite endpoints on the spectrum are straightforward.
Either he was informed shortly after the now infamous staff meeting of May 23, 2010, about the allegations of abuse by Blackhawks hopeful Kyle Beach.
Or he was allowed to remain unaware for more than a decade, until the scandal was publicly kindled by his organization last spring and reached Fahrenheit 451 two weeks ago.
IN THE INTERIM, the professional heads of some consistently honorable humans and compliant employees roll alongside those of some hockey zombies.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman proceeds as an inquisitor with an agenda apparently out to arbitrarily protect a gold mine.
Joel Quenneville sat through the meeting, purportedly chaired by team president John McDonough -- the only senior executive with unobstructed channeling to Wirtz. So off with his head and out as head coach of the formidable Florida Panthers.
Assistant GM Kevin Cheveldayoff was just visitin' -- however Bettman has deigned to interpret that. So he is allowed to continue as exec VP/general manager of the Winnipeg Jets.
ONE VETERAN BLACKHAWKS EXECUTIVE who is not surprised by the vile mess is Jim De Maria.
He served the Wirtz family and the team for 25 years (1983-2008) as senior director of communications along with a variety of associated roles.
And today he goes far against the wheat fields of orchestrated perception by insisting that the Beach scandal wouldn't have occurred on the watch of Bill Wirtz, Rocky's father.
SAID DE MARIA: "If he was running the team, something like this would never have happened.
"People have criticized Mr. Wirtz for years and still do even though he passed many years ago (in September 2007). The bottom line is that no matter what anyone says or thinks, when he was alive, the organization was run with integrity.
"Like Mr. Wirtz used to say, it was 'Family first, family second and everything else after that.' He always treated his employees with respect and was appreciative of the work they were doing.
"That attitude died when Mr. Wirtz passed away."
DE MARIA WAS SEPARATED from the Blackhawks in 2008 as the Rocky/McDonough regime settled in. He then served for close to a decade as VP/development for The Ronald McDonald House Charities before retiring in 2019.
Notably, he started to make his bones on the Chicago sportscape alongside McDonough in the late 1970s when both were pups in the front office of Lee Stern's Chicago Sting.
He has no love left to lose for his old colleague.
"What happened to Kyle Beach was inexcusable," De Maria said. "But it should be noted that many people in the organization were verbally abused by John McDonough from the first day he came to the Blackhawks.
"That would never have been allowed to happen in a Bill Wirtz-run organization."
Attempts by The Daily Herald to reach McDonough for comment were unsuccessful.
GUY CHIPPARONI -- A SPOKESMAN for Rocky Wirtz -- replied:
"With all due respect to Mr. De Maria, he spent very little time with the organization after Rocky Wirtz took over the Chicago Blackhawks upon his father's passing in September 2007.
"And by Mr. De Maria's departure soon after, he was certainly not there long enough to have any significant knowledge of Rocky's leadership style."
CHIPPARONI CONCLUDED: "Rocky's priority was to build a new infrastructure that would allow the organization to move forward, which began by recruiting and turning the team over to a new team president that same year.
"Many accounts of the chaotic front office that Rocky encountered when he walked into that building after his father's death (have been reported). To state that he was trying to do anything but improve the Blackhawks in both operations and culture is insulting and simply false."
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The Breeders' Cup -- which lost much of its charm when it steroided out of its one-day, eight-race format -- also gives Eddie Olczyk an excuse to take a break from the Blackhawks minefield. Part of his weekend workload will include time alongside Maria Taylor, who will be making her horse racing debut for NBC Sports. ...
And, Rip Van Wye, on the predictably big-bat postseason play of Houston's Jose Altuve: "He's Dustin Pedroia with greater stolen-sign velocity."
• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.