Billionaire businessman Mike Illitch, founder of Little Caesars Pizza and owner of both the Detroit Tigers and the Detroit Red Wings passed away at a Detroit area hospital earlier this evening, he was 87 years old.
Illitch was a pioneer who put the state of Michigan on the hockey map, and not just with the Detroit Red Wings, but also with the creation of the Little Caesars hockey program which eventually led to the Little Caesars Hockey League and the High Performance Hockey League
creating a feeder program for the Ontario Hockey League, USHL, NAHL, NCAA, and ultimately the NHL.
An earlier connection to the Illitch family began with Spirit President and managing partner Craig Goslin, who was mentored by Devellano and current Red Wings GM Ken Holland over ten years ago, leading to a Spirit outdoor game at Comerica Park as part of the 2014 Winter Classic celebration.
Goslin paid tribute to Illitch earlier this evening in an email from the team.
“On behalf of owner Dick Garber; partners Chris Osgood, Brandon Bordeaux, Jimmy Devellano, the entire Spirit staff and fans, our condolences go out to the entire Illitch family and all of the Detroit Red Wings in the passing of Mike Illitch,” Goslin said.
“Mr. Illitch was an ambassador and a tremendous leader in the hockey business with the Detroit Red Wings but also with the Little Caesars Amateur Hockey Program, where he provided opportunities for thousands of kids to develop their hockey skills, with many of them playing in the OHL, College Hockey, and the NHL.”
Some notable graduates of the Little Caesars Hockey program into the NHL include Kevin Hatcher (Carolina Hurricanes) and his brother Darian (Dallas Stars and Red Wings) who is currently the head coach of the Sarnia Sting, David Legwand (Nashville Predators), Mike Modano (Dallas Stars), Pat Peake (Washington Capitals), John VanBiesbrouck (New Jersey Devils), Doug Weight (St. Louis Blues), Steve Ott (Red Wings) and many more.
While the Little Caesars hockey program has had its share of players in the OHL, USHL, NAHL, NCAA, and NHL Illitch can also be indirectly credited for the eventual addition of the many other powerful travel hockey programs in the Detroit area who were developed to compete with Little Caesars.
Teams like: Honey Baked (which featured Saginaw native and former Spirit defenseman Brad Walch along with 2016 draft pick Caleb Everett), Victory Honda (former Spirit player Garret Ross and current Spirit player D.J. Busdeker), the Oakland Junior Grizzlies (former Spirit goal tender David Ovsjannikov and Saginaw native Lucas Crawford who was drafted by the Owen Sound Attack this year) just to name a few.
“We are grateful for his legendary impact on the game of hockey,” concluded Goslin. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Illitch family and the entire Detroit Red Wing family.”