Military roots run deep within the front office of the Florida Panthers.
Panthers Chairman and Owner Vincent Viola is a 1977 graduate of West Point Military Academy, while many other members of the organization are alumni of the illustrious Academy. West Point also has a place in the history of the Florida Panthers as the team has previously visited the Academy twice (1995 & 2007).
The theme for the Panthers this season lies in a Greek variation of the number 23. With 23 players making up an NHL roster, the challenge and the objective to become a Panther and be one of the chosen 23 will be instilled in the team this season, and ties into the same types of values taught at West Point.
The significance of the message of “23” being in Greek, is a play on the 300 Spartan soldiers who defended their land against the powerful Persian Empire during the Battle of Thermopylae. The message of sacrifice for one another despite the odds resonates in this type of mentality the organization looks for from it’s players.
The trip to the United States Military Academy is around the corner for the Panthers as they head to West Point following their final preseason matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, Oct. 4. With many new faces in the Florida locker room, a new coaching staff and a young core of players, team-building is a strong theme going into this trip to West Point.
“I think it’ll be excellent,” said Panthers D Willie Mitchell.
“I’m looking forward to it, I think the guys are too and getting to know each other a little more and create that cohesiveness and group feel, is what you need to go bat for each other to win.”
Spending two days at West Point, the team will take part in various on and off-ice activities. Upon arrival, the team will participate in a series of field problems designed to test their mental and physical strength, as well as how well they communicate as a group.
“The exercises are going to put the guys in unfamiliar situations,” said Florida Panthers Assistant to the General Manager and 2002 West Point Graduate, Eric Joyce.
“It’s going to force them to think outside the box and by doing so they will have to communicate with one another to overcome challenges. In the end, it’s less about the challenge and more about the cohesiveness that the group forms.”
On-ice practice will be held at Tate Rink, the home of Army Hockey and will be open to the public. Following practice the team will hike Torne Mountain and tour the Academy.
"We are extremely honored to welcome the Florida Panthers to West Point for the third time," said Army head coach Brian Riley.
"While it's an exciting time for our program and our fans, it's an opportunity for the Panthers to be around the special young men and women here at West Point, only furthering their appreciation for those serving in our armed forces. We are hoping that this experience for them builds some team chemistry as they open the season in the coming weeks."
Panthers G Roberto Luongo looks forward to getting the opportunity to get the team together. He stressed the importance of doing things as a team and forming a bond before the season begins.
“It should be fun”, said Luongo.
“That stuff is important once the season rolls around, that the guys know each other well, get comfortable around each other and are ready to go”.
Once the preseason ends, the regular season is the next order of business. With only a few days until their season opener against the Lightning on Thursday, Oct. 9 in Tampa Bay, there is no turning back. This trip to West Point is intended to prepare the Panthers for what’s ahead and to face it together, as a team.