Wenatchee Wild President and Managing Partner Bill Stewart announced today that the team has hired Bliss Littler as head coach and director of hockey operations.
“We are excited to welcome Bliss to the Wild organization,” Stewart said. “Bliss has had a lot of success at our level and higher. I think his name and reputation will add to the program, and we feel very good about him running the team.”
Littler holds USA Hockey’s all-time junior hockey record for career wins (577), and brings 19 years of head coaching and general management experience to the Wild.
“I’m very excited,” Littler said. “In such a short period, Bill and staff have created one of the best run junior franchises in the country. It appears to me that this is definitely a special place and a place where you have the chance to succeed.”
Littler spent the last 12 years of his career in the USHL, where he served as head coach and general manager for the Omaha Lancers (2008-11), Tri-City Storm (2003-08) and Topeka Scarecrows (2000-03). Littler’s USHL teams compiled a combined record of 326-210-59.
In his most recent stint, Littler led the Lancers to a 117-60-22 record. In addition, Omaha led its division in scoring, power play percentage, penalty-kill percentage and allowed the fewest goals over the last three seasons.
The third coach in Wild history, Littler replaces John Becanic who resigned as head coach in April. The Wild went 36-17-7 under Becanic in 2011-12 and qualified for the Robertson Cup playoffs before falling to the Fairbanks Ice Dogs in the West Division finals.
“I am very thankful for the trust that Bill and Carla Stewart, as well as the rest of the ownership group, have put in me,” Littler said. “I look forward to the leadership role they expect from me.”
Littler’s coaching career began in 1989 as an assistant for the SJHL’s Minot Americans. His first head coaching opportunity came in 1993 with the AFHL’s (AWHL) Billings Bulls, who went 41-10-1 and were playoff co-champions. Littler remained with the Bulls until 2000. Over his tenure the team won five Borne Cups and four regular season titles.
Since 2001, Littler has produced 102 Division I player. Twenty-two of his players have been NHL draft picks, including two first-rounders (Louis Leblanc, 2009, Montreal; Patrick White, 2007, Vancouver).
Littler has also been involved in USA Hockey National Teams. Most recently he served as an assistant on the 2011 and 2008 U.S. Junior Select Teams that competed at the World Junior A Challenge. The 2011 team won the bronze medal while the 2008 squad captured the gold medal. Littler was also an assistant coach on the 2000 and 1997 USA 19 and under teams that won gold medals. In 2002, he served as head coach of the USA 19 and under team.
Littler’s first priority with the Wild is to speak with the team’s returning players and 14 tenders.
“I want to reassure them that they are wanted here and I can’t wait to work with them,” he said. “I’ve given the list [of players] to some other coaches and scouts, and they tell me it’s a very good list. They have done a good job with what they have returning and with their tenders.”
Littler’s wife, Gretchen, and the couple’s two children, Cade and Grace, currently reside in Omaha, Neb. The family plans to move to the Wenatchee area this summer, Littler said.