West Point Grad-Supported Florida Panthers Take Home First Stanley Cup in Franchise History

Category: Grad News
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Owner Viola ’77 is Second Consecutive West Pointer To Win Cup Final

By Jamie Enos, WPAOG Director of Communications

Last year, Army West Point Head Hockey Coach Brian Riley started telling people, “You don’t come to West Point to play in the NHL, you come to own a team in the NHL” after 2022-23 Stanley Cup Vegas Golden Knights owner, Bill Foley ’67 brought the cup back to West Point for cadets to celebrate.

Maybe he wasn’t wrong.

This is the second consecutive year the Stanley Cup is going home with a West Pointer as it heads to Florida to Panthers’ team owner, Vincent Viola, Class of 1977 Chairman, Owner, and Governor of Sunrise Sports & Entertainment and the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers, as well as Chairman of the Florida Panthers Foundation.  

Viola graduated from West Point and continued his education at New York Law School where he earned his J.D. degree. A graduate of the U.S. Army Airborne, Air Assault, Infantry and Ranger Schools, Viola served as an infantry officer in the 101st Airborne Division. His dedication to the U.S. military led to his creation of the Florida Panthers’ Heroes Among Us program, which has honored hundreds of veterans, and counting since 2013. His commitment to our nation’s security led to his founding of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

Viola is not new to sports. A life-long horse racing enthusiast, he owns the 2017 Kentucky Derby and Florida Derby winning horse, Always Dreaming, the 2019 Breeder’s Cup Classic winner, Vino Rosso, and the 2023 Florida Derby winner, Forte. Recognized in 2021 by Sports Business Journal for his advocacy in diverse and inclusive hiring, Viola is one of four team owners on the NHL’s Executive Inclusion Council to combat racism and accelerate diversity. Since purchasing the Florida Panther’s in 2013, his leadership, investments in local community and dedication to the growing game of hockey in Florida lead to a 2021-2022 Presidents Trophy win as well as a Prince of Wales trophy in the 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 seasons.

But until this year, a Stanley Cup Final win eluded the franchise. The team’s 2024 journey was a thrilling saga of resilience, skill, and determination. After years of building and refining their team, the Panthers emerged as a dominant force in the NHL this season, captivating fans and analysts alike with their exceptional performance. 

From the onset of the regular season, the Panthers demonstrated an impressive blend of offensive prowess and defensive solidity. Led by head coach Paul Maurice, the team quickly established itself as a top contender, consistently outplaying their opponents with a combination of speed, strategic forechecking, and a high-scoring offense. Key players like Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau were instrumental, delivering clutch performances and demonstrating why they are considered among the league’s elite. 

Barkov, the team captain, played a crucial role in leading by example. His exceptional two-way play and leadership on and off the ice set the tone for the team. Huberdeau, on the other hand, was a constant offensive threat, contributing significantly to the Panthers’ high goal-scoring tally. Adding new talents and the steady development of young players further bolstered the team’s depth, making them a formidable opponent in any matchup.

As the Panthers advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals, the excitement among their fanbase reached a fever pitch. Game after game, the Panthers’ ability to execute under pressure, along with standout performances from their key players kept the series competitive and engaging.

The 2024 Stanley Cup Finals were a testament to the Florida Panthers’ journey and their emergence as a powerhouse in the NHL. The 2024 Panthers not only made history, but laid the foundation for a bright and promising future. 

Several other West Point graduates were a part of the Florida Panthers’ winning season:

Bryce Hollweg ’08

Hollweg graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 2008 and was captain of the Army West Point Hockey Team. Hollweg went on to receive his Masters of Arts in Information Technology Management from Webster University and an Executive Leadership Certificate form Cornell University. Hollweg served 10 years as a U.S. Army Officer with assignments in Belgium, Germany, Afghanistan and South Korea and exited as a CPT. Now, Hollweg is the Chief Operating officer of the Florida Panthers where he oversees the organizations arena operations, food and beverage services, live entertainment and the Panthers Ice Den practice/recreational facility. He also oversees the War Memorial Auditorium revitalization in Fort Lauderdale.

Matthew Caldwell ’02

Caldwell, a 2002 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, also completed his MBA from Northwestern Kellogg School of Management and J.D. degree form Northwestern University School of Law. He went on to serve five years as a U.S. Army Captain. He conducted combat operation in Iraq, led peacekeeping operations in Kosovo and trained soldiers preparing for deployment in Germany. He was awarded a NATO Kosovo Military Medal, an Iraq Campaign Medal and a Bronze Star Medal. Caldwell was named as a South Florida Business Journal Ultimate CEO in 2021 and received ‘Forty under 40’ recognition by Sports Business Journal (2018) and South Florida Business Journal (2016). The former VP of Goldman Sachs joined the Panthers as the COO in 2014. Just two years later, at age 36, Caldwell assumed the role of President & Chief Executive Officer, making him the youngest CEO in all of U.S. professional sports at the time.

Keith Fine ’08

Fine graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 2008 and went on to serve as a captain. He was part of a variety of Clubs and Activities during his time as a cadet. He was on the Lacrosse team as well being part of the Chess Club, Hunting Club, Spanish Language Club, Team Handball, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Scoutmasters’ Council and more. Fine was a Simulation Operations Officer where he developed and integrated Live, Virtual, Constructive and Game-supported simulation training strategies. He was also a Company Commanding officer of a basic combat training company for 16 months. He is now the Vice President of Programming and Development for the Panthers after being the general manager for the Panthers Ice Den for nearly six years.

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