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Sabres Notebook: Trump tabs Panthers owner to lead Army

SUNRISE, Fla. – The Florida Panthers have been far more intriguing off the ice than on it. That reached another level Monday.

President-elect Donald J. Trump has nominated Panthers owner Vincent Viola to serve as Secretary of the Army, pending approval by the Senate. Ownership of the Panthers will be placed in a trust in the name of Viola’s family, and Florida Vice Chairman Douglas A. Cifu will take over the team.

“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.

Before buying the Panthers in 2013, Viola was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and served as an Airborne Ranger in the Army.

“If confirmed, I will work tirelessly to provide our president with the land force he will need to accomplish any mission in support of his National Defense Strategy,” Viola said. “A primary focus of my leadership will be ensuring that America's soldiers have the ways and means to fight and win across the full spectrum of conflict.

“This great honor comes with great responsibility, and I will fight for the American people and their right to live free every day.”

Trump held a pre-election rally in BB&T Center, where the Panthers will host the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night.

“As Vinnie's longtime business partner and friend, I'm humbled by the commitment to service he is demonstrating by accepting this great nomination," Cifu said. “While we all miss his leadership and guidance day to day, his mentorship over these many years has prepared me to take on this humbling responsibility with the Panthers and the NHL, and I look forward to continuing his legacy and vision once he is confirmed.”

Sen. Charles Schumer has endorsed Viola’s nomination, saying he is “up to the job” and his dedication to the U.S. Army is “second to none.”

“We proudly congratulate Vincent Viola on his nomination to this important position – which, pending Senate approval, obviously will require his full-time attention," the NHL said in a statement. “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.

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

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After a day off in the sun, the Sabres got back to work Monday. They had a new look up front.

Buffalo had changes on three of its four lines in BB&T Center. Jack Eichel stayed in the middle of left wing Matt Moulson and right wing Kyle Okposo. The moves featured Ryan O’Reilly centering for Marcus Foligno and Sam Reinhart; Johan Larsson between Evander Kane and Brian Gionta; and a four-man unit of William Carrier, Nicolas Deslauriers, Zemgus Girgensons and Derek Grant.

Foligno received a bump in status after a solid third period during Saturday’s 2-1 shootout loss in Carolina.

“His third period was his best by a mile,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “He was at the net front a couple times in the third. For three scoring chances, he’s the guy at the net, around the net, screening the goalie, getting a tip on some of those pucks and creating second opportunities.

“That’s the way we need him to play for 60 minutes, for every period.”

The meeting with the Panthers starts a run of three games in four nights. Carolina is in Buffalo on Thursday, and the Sabres visit the New York Islanders on Friday.

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So far, Dmitry Kulikov’s time in Florida feels like any other road trip. That will change when the game starts.

The defenseman spent the first seven years of his career with the Panthers before being dealt to Buffalo in June. He has already faced his former team once, but the Oct. 29 game was in Buffalo. Taking the ice in the Panthers’ arena will be different.

“Being on the other side, I guess it’ll be a bit emotional,” Kulikov said. “I’ve never been through it before, and I don’t know how I’m going to react. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

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