Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers to keep team in the family when Vinnie Viola takes Army post

Vinnie Viola meets the media in Sunrise after buying the Florida Panthers on Sept. 27, 2013.
Vinnie Viola meets the media in Sunrise after buying the Florida Panthers on Sept. 27, 2013. AP

A few hours before the Florida Panthers game against Columbus on Saturday night, the team’s co-owner told jokes to fans gathered in an arena ballroom while its CEO took on a guy in an inflatable dinosaur costume in a push-up contest.

The team promises nothing is going to change.

Doug Cifu and Matthew Caldwell’s roles with the Panthers may be expanded a bit in the coming weeks as team owner Vinnie Viola goes through his confirmation process after being Donald Trump’s nominee to be Secretary of the Army.

Viola’s confirmation hearing isn’t expected until after Trump’s inauguration and the Panthers are expecting a smooth transition.

Not only with the Viola family still retain ownership in the team but Cifu — the team’s wise-cracking co-owner — will slide into Viola’s role as team governor.

“First off, this is going to be great for our country because Vinnie is going to be an awesome Secretary of the Army,” Cifu said at the team’s third annual social media meetup at the arena called ‘PanthersPalooza.’

“There won’t be many changes, just administrative stuff. I’ll become chairman and governor which means I’ll have to go to more meetings and stuff.”

Caldwell, who easily won his contest against the dinosaur, is a West Point graduate as is Viola and says the pride the team has in Viola’s appointment hasn’t abated since the initial announcement.

“We’re all just so proud of him,” Caldwell said. “The players met with him on Tuesday and they were super-excited for him. But there will no change, it will be status quo, just some title changes. From an operational standpoint, there will be no change from us.”

Viola will succeed Eric Fanning as his responsibilities, as Cifu says, makes him basically the CEO of the U.S. Army. Viola would be in charge of the Army’s budget as well as have watch over the 1.4 million employees on the armed service.

Cifu will also take the reigns from Viola at their Virtu Financial firm.

“I get kind of emotional talking about it,” Cifu said. “If you think about it, this is a guy who could do anything with his life; he has freedom, a great family, a great life. But he’s just so passionate about the United States and about the Army that he wants to serve like he did in his youth.

“He told me 10 years ago that all he wanted to do was be Secretary of the Army. Then this thing just came together. I’m thrilled beyond belief for him and our country.”

NOTEWORTHY

Seth Griffith’s rough game Friday night cost him a spot in the lineup Saturday as he was a healthy scratch. Griffith joined Florida’s top line of Vincent Trocheck and Jaromir Jagr after missing four games with a concussion.

Denis Malgin was back in the lineup after sitting out Friday’s 5-2 loss to the Islanders centering Shawn Thornton and Paul Thompson on the fourth line. Jared McCann replaced Griffith up top.

“I wanted to get Malgin back in and I thought McCann played really well,” coach Tom Rowe said.

▪ Goalie Roberto Luongo wasn’t in net Saturday but had tough words for Friday’s performance, one in which the Panthers trailed 2-0 after the first two shots of the game.

The Panthers have gotten off to rough starts especially at home lately. Coming into Saturday, Florida had lost three of four home games while getting outscored 13-3 in the process.

“It was a rough game all around,” Luongo said. “We came out flat, we weren’t ready to play as a team — myself included. They were hungrier; they got called out by their coach and they were the hungrier team. That’s the bottom line. They wanted it more. They had the lead in the third and they kept coming.”

▪ Cifu reiterated that the Panthers would not make another coaching change this season after firing Gerard Gallant and replacing him on an interim basis with general manager Tom Rowe.

It’s well believed Rowe would like to keep the job on a permanent basis.

“Tommy’s coaching right now,” Cifu said, “we’ll see how that shakes out at the end of the season.”

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