June 9, 2004
Notre Dame, Ind. – On Sunday, June 6, the Milwaukee Admirals captured their first hockey championship since 1976, winning the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Calder Cup title with a sweep of the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Behind the scenes for the Cup-winning Admirals was former Notre Dame hockey standout, Phil Wittliff ’71, who has been a member of the Admirals organization since graduating from Notre Dame in 1971. Currently the team’s Executive Vice-President and General Manager, Wittliff has played, coached or served in the Admiral front office for 33 years.
Wittliff’s hockey path through Notre Dame started on the football field. The native of Port Huron, Mich., attended Notre Dame on a football scholarship as a quarterback. He saw action at linebacker in his first year with the Irish, but knee injuries sidelined him in for most of his first two seasons.
He saw his first action on the ice as a member of the club team in 1966-67 where he was the team’s top scorer. He was given the okay to join Lefty Smith’s varsity hockey team in its first season (1968-69) by then football coach Ara Parseghian after his second knee injury.
From 1968-71, Wittliff racked up 72 goals and 52 assists for 124 points in 85 games, leading the Irish in goals scored twice (’69-’70 and ’70-’71) and points once (’68-’69). He then went on to become the first Notre Dame player to play professional hockey as he signed with the Milwaukee Admirals of the United States Hockey League (USHL) where he played from 1972-77.
He was named the USHL rookie of the year in his first season after scoring 38 goals and 48 assists for 86 points. In 1974-75, Wittliff won the USHL scoring title with 43 goals and 58 assists for 101 points and in 1976 was a member of the last Milwaukee hockey championship team. In five pro seasons, “Mr. Admiral” recorded 194 goals and 262 assists for 456 career points.
The Admirals moved to the International Hockey League (IHL) in 1978 and Wittliff began his coaching career as an assistant coach in 1979-80, taking over as head coach midway through both the ’79-’80 and the ’80-’81 seasons. In 1981-82, he became the head coach and remained in that role through the 1986-87 season. He returned as head coach for three seasons from 1994-97. In the 10 seasons he served as coach, Wittliff and his teams recorded a 378-288-39 record.
In 1997-98, Wittliff moved to the front office as Executive Vice-President and General Manager of the Admirals. During his tenure, he has overseen Milwaukee’s move to the AHL in 2001-02 when the IHL disbanded and the team’s current affiliation with the Nashville Predators.
Milwaukee won the overall league title in the AHL this season as the Admirals recorded 102 points with a 46-24-7 record while winning the Western Conference. In the playoffs, Milwaukee downed Cincinnati, four games to three in the opening round, knocked off Chicago, four games to two in the quarterfinals, downed Rochester, four games to one in the semifinals and then swept Wilkes Barre/Scranton, four games to none, for the Calder Cup title.