Trump Picks Florida Panthers Owner as Army Secretary

By The Associated Press
The Associated Press
The Associated Press
December 19, 2016 Updated: December 19, 2016

SUNRISE, Fla.—Vincent Viola has insisted for the past three years that his sole focus as owner of the Florida Panthers was to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.

He’ll be otherwise occupied now.

Viola’s nomination by President-elect Donald Trump on Monday to be the next secretary of the Army means he will be giving up his roles as chairman and governor of the Panthers, pending his confirmation by the Senate.

But the Panthers said the move — which top team executives learned was coming late last week — will not change the day-to-day hockey operations.

“Zero effect on us,” Panthers President and CEO Matthew Caldwell said. “His ownership still stays with his family. There’ll be no changes in positions, and nothing for the front office or management team.”

Viola, a 1977 West Point graduate who bought the Panthers in 2013, plans to have the chairman and governor positions filled by his longtime business partner Doug Cifu.

The NHL offered Viola congratulations.

“The club has assured us that the day-to-day operations of the Panthers’ franchise will not be affected by this development, and we will certainly work closely with the club to ensure that is the case,” the NHL said in a statement.

“Mr. Viola and team ownership have further advised that they remain completely committed to South Florida and to the Panthers’ fans.”

Viola is in line to become the Army’s top civilian official.

“It is an honor to be nominated to serve our country,” Viola said.

Trump called Viola “an incredibly accomplished and selfless individual.”

“Whether it is his distinguished military service or highly impressive track record in the world of business, Vinnie has proved throughout his life that he knows how to be a leader and deliver major results in the face of any challenge,” Trump said. “He is a man of outstanding work ethic, integrity, and strategic vision, with an exceptional ability to motivate others.”

Viola’s family has had a role in Panthers’ operations and will continue to do so.

All three of Viola’s sons have various responsibilities with the team — Michael Viola is involved in budgeting, Travia Viola works in hockey operations and scouting, and John Viola helps run the team foundation.

“I don’t think there will be much of a change,” Caldwell said.

Viola’s Army ties run deep and have carried over into his time leading the Panthers. The team has held training camps at West Point, played exhibition games there, has several West Point graduates and military veterans working in the front office and incorporates some military thinking into its day-to-day marketing strategies.

“Our hockey team has always been proud to be part of Mr. Viola’s legacy,” Panthers President of Hockey Operations Dale Tallon said. “We admire his dedication to his country and are excited to watch him pursue this new endeavor.”

Trump, in announcing Viola as his pick, said he was “living proof of the American dream.”

Viola’s father served in the Army during World War II. Viola became the first member of his family — Italian immigrants living in Brooklyn — to attend college, served in the 101st Airborne Division, then was part of the U.S. Army Reserve after his active duty.

He’s a graduate of New York Law School, has long been involved with philanthropic projects and is a past winner of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

In 2003, he founded and helped fund the creation of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

“He said he won’t let us down,” Caldwell said.