Seated at the table in the TSN studios were the usual suspects for the NHL Draft Lottery. Brian Burke, repping the Calgary Flames, seated between Scott Howson of the Edmonton Oilers and Trent Klatt of the New York Islanders. At the end was Tim Murray of the Buffalo Sabres, in all his Dwight Schrute-ness.
But among the front office wonks, crusty GMs and ex-players was a new face, with a familiar name: Travis Viola.
It’s the question most of Canada was asking, making him a trending topic on Twitter after his Florida Panthers won the lottery.
He’s a vice president of hockey operations in Florida.
It probably helps that his father, Vinny, owns the team.
With this bright red tie and beard, he evoked Seneca Crane from “The Hunger Games.” He showed no emotion when the Panthers won the top pick. When interviewed by TSN’s James Duthie, he seemed to indicate that, despite the acquisition of veteran goalie Roberto Luongo, the Panther are in a major rebuild.
“We’re looking to continue to build on our core talent of the players,” he said. “We’re anxious to put a winner in Florida, but if we take our time and make a really good plan with Mr. Dale Tallon and Mr. Bill Torey … a little slower pace than rushing right away.”
Once more, with feeling:
Who is Travis Viola again?
The 25 year old was formally hired in Oct. 2013 as the Vice President of Hockey Operations & Special Projects for the Florida Panthers. The Panthers said Viola “will be a full-time member of SSE’s executive team, work with Panthers EVP & GM Dale Tallon in all areas of hockey operations, while also working side by side with President & CEO Michael R. Yormark on a number of special business development projects.”
A passionate, lifelong hockey fan, Mr. Viola has used his enthusiasm and creativity to spearhead hockey-based charitable fundraising efforts including the NHL's "Beard-A-Thon" campaign. His sports industry experience also includes five years with the New York Yankees organization.
Born and raised in New York City, Mr. Viola is a 2010 graduate of Fordham University in the Bronx where he was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree. Prior to joining the Panthers, Mr. Viola spent two years as a proprietary trader for Axiom Markets. Mr. Viola is extremely active in community endeavors and has worked with organizations including “The Bronx African American History Project”, PETA, and more.
(A search for Viola’s role with the Yankees turned up empty.)
Viola travels with Tallon on the road for the Panthers’ away games. According to sources familiar with the team, he enjoys interacting with the players and life on the road. He learned how to skate when he was four years old, inspired by Wayne Gretzky. Today, we hear he’s more partial to Henrik Lundqvist.
So why have a 2010 Fordham grad with no front office experience with an NHL team as the VP of hockey operations? Because the Violas want to keep it all in the family.
Doug Cifu, Vinnie Viola's longtime business partner and part owner of the Panthers, cited the New England Patriots (Krafts) and New York Giants (Maras) as models of family-run teams to emulate. John Viola spoke with admiration of the Rooneys in Pittsburgh, the Steinbrenners in New York.
"I think that's us," said [son] John Viola, adding that his family will put their stamp on the Panthers, indicative of their Italian-American heritage.
"You'll be in our house, and it will be your house," he said of the BB&T Center. "That's how we treat everything. Everybody who wants to get to know us should try to get a ticket to Christmas Eve in our house. It's an all-day affair. We've got people from all over."
Obviously that extends to the NHL Draft.
Look, there’s going to be Pavlovian sneering whenever we’re in the presence of nepotism. Seeing Travis Viola amongst men that have toiled in this game for decades was like watching Justin Bieber join The Rolling Stones for "Paint It Black."
But, for one second, consider how you’d feel in Travis Viola’s shoes.
You’re a hockey nut. Your father just purchased an NHL team. He turns to you and says, “How would you like to be a vice president of hockey operations, travel the world, hang with the players and attend every game with full access?”
You’re saying … what, "no?" “No dad, I’m content playing fantasy and watching games in my underwear, hoping not to spill Miller High Life on the remote.”
Of course you’re taking the gig. And they before you know it, you’re watching Bill Daly pull a golden card with your team’s logo on it, seated a few feet away from Brian Burke’s hair.
Life is good … well, besides the part about the team being terrible enough to win the lottery.