Longtime owner of the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers, Mike Ilitch, passed away on Friday at the age of 87 years old.
The Detroit native and founder of Little Caesars Pizza, bought the Red Wings in 1982 and under his ownership, brought four Stanley Cups the “Motor City (1997, 1998, 2002 & 2008). In 2003, Ilitch was enshrined into the National Hockey League Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the International Franchise Hall of Fame in 2016.
The Red Wings have qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 25 consecutive seasons, tied for third longest streak in the NHL. They have also won 16 division championships and captured the President’s Trophy, for best regular season team, six times.
NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman said, “With the passing of Mike Ilitch, the Red Wings have lost the consummate owner, the National Hockey League has lost a cherished friend and passionate builder, Detroit sports has lost a legend and the city of Detroit has lost not only a devoted native son but a visionary and driving force in the rebirth of downtown.”
He added, “Mike’s commitment to excellence and to winning were unparalleled, and his commitment to the community was unrivaled, as was his boundless support of youth hockey. He was a prolific He was a prolific philanthropist, and above all a devoted and above all a devoted partner and husband to his wife of 62 years, Marian. At this moment of heart breaking sorrow, we send deepest condolences to the entire Ilitch family and to all who were privileged to know him, play for him or work for him.”
Ilitch, born July 20, 1929, served in the United States Marines from 1948 to 1952 before playing minor league baseball with the Tigers organization from 1952 to 1955. He purchased the Tigers in 1992.
Ilitch also established the Little Caesars Amateur Hockey Program. He also created the Little Caesars Love Kitchen, which are mobile restaurants that have served more than three million people. The Little Caesars Veterans Program, provides support to help veterans open a franchise.
Christopher Ilitich, President and Chief Executive Officer of Ilitch Holdings Inc. said, “My father was a once in a generation entrepreneur, visionary and leader setting the tone for our organization and our family. He made such a positive impact in the world of sports, in business and in the community, and we will remember him for his unwavering commitment to his employees, his passion for Detroit, his generosity to others and his devotion to his family and friends. Together my family and the company celebrate the tremendous man he was and we will continue to work hard to uphold his remarkable legacy.”
He continued, “I am honored to have had the opportunity to work with him to nurture and grow our businesses, but mostly, I am gratefully to have called him my dad, and I know my siblings feel the same.”
Ilitch is survived by his wife, Marian, seven children, 22 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
The Red Wings will be closing out Joe Louis Arena at the end of the 2016-2017 season, before opening the new Little Caesars Arena next fall.