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Cats Culture Impacted by West Point

by Mike Lewis / Florida Panthers

In the tradition of internal post-game awards handed from teammate to teammate in the locker room, the Panthers have moved on from their ‘Macho Man’ hat from last season and transitioned into something that holds a bit more meaning to the team.

Owner Vinnie Viola, a 1977 West Point graduate, brought his team to West Point just a few days before opening night, for a team-building trip. Although the Academy is based around the military, the principles and values of West Point go beyond just the armed forces, a sentiment that Viola looked to instill in the Panthers and bring new players and returning players together to create a cohesive unit.

The Panthers players decided to award a Dress Gray jacket to the game’s most valuable player after each win. One of the oldest West Point uniforms and not for everyday use, the Dress Gray is worn by cadets for formal settings including special dinners or in the presence of a prestigious speaker. Dress Gray jackets are also adorned for Army-Navy football games as well.

The Panthers’ trip inspired the team to pass along a Dress Gray jacket to the game’s most valuable player within the locker room. Panthers F Shawn Thornton was given a Dress Gray jacket by a West Point cadet as a gift. Hesitant to take the jacket from the cadet at first, the cadet insisted Thornton take the jacket, which the 37-year old forward brought back with him to his team and ran the idea by them to pass it on after the game.

“I loved it,” said Thornton about the trip to West Point. “I’m into that kind of stuff. What the military goes through intrigues me. I have a few friends that have been a part of it. I have a buddy that’s an Army Ranger and was a sniper, I pick his brain all the time. I’m really intrigued about the whole process. It was a pretty cool learning experience (to be at West Point).”

The Dress Gray tradition came full circle recently as Thornton was awarded the jacket after last night’s 4-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks. Thornton recorded his first point of the season and a plus-two rating in the Veteran’s Day victory.

“It’s quite an honor,” said Thornton with a smile. “I’m not sure if I deserved it. There are some other guys who played pretty well, but obviously you don’t turn it down. Aaron Ekblad decided it was mine to wear tonight. I’m very proud.”

Panthers Chief of Staff Matt Caldwell is a 2002 West Point graduate himself and joined the team on their October trip to the Military Academy and has seen the team come together first hand through training camp to where they are today.

“As a West Point graduate, I’m really proud,” said Caldwell. “There is no better example of the team embracing this culture, than them coming up with (awarding the Dress Gray) on their own. They’ve really come together and worked really hard. The feedback from the players (about West Point) and just seeing their genuine reactions walking around the campus, made me realize that Vinnie was right and it really brought the team together. I’m very proud of that.”

The Panthers face the New York Islanders on Friday Nov. 14 in the final game of their three-game homestand before they hit the road for a four-game road trip starting against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday, Nov. 16.

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