Mike Ilitch, the founder of the Little Caesars pizza chain and the long-time owner of the Detroit Red Wings, died at 87 on Friday according to his family.
Ilitch’s son, Christopher Ilitch, the President and CEO of Ilitch Holdings, released the following statement on Friday.
“My father was a once-in-a-generation entrepreneur, visionary and leader, setting the tone for our organization and 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 will continue to work hard to uphold his remarkable legacy. I’m honored to have had the opportunity to work with him to nurture and grow our businesses, but mostly, I’m grateful to have called him my dad, and I know my siblings feel the same.”
He will be honored at a private funeral service.
Red Wings general manager Ken Holland also issued a statement on Friday evening.
“Mr. I stands as one of America’s greatest sports team owners. To have been able to work with him for more than 30 years and be a part of turning a struggling franchise into a champion again was an experience of a lifetime. His commitment to his team and our fans, is the reason we all feel a part of “HockeyTown.” He will be deeply missed by those of us who were fortunate enough to know him and call him a friend.”
Ilitch was a powerful figure on the Detroit sports scene and along with owning the Red Wings was also the owner of Major League Baseball’s Detroit Tigers since 1992.
He purchased the Red Wings in 1982 and eventually turned them into one of the powerhouse franchises in the NHL throughout most of the 1990s and 2000s. Along with the franchise’s current streak of 25 consecutive playoff appearances, the Red Wings reached six Stanley Cup Finals during Ilitch’s ownership of the team, winning four of them. The team’s Stanley Cup win during the 1997-98 season ended what had been a 43-year championship drought for the team.