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Florida Panthers sold to NY businessman

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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) - Vincent Viola grew up in Brooklyn, graduated from West Point, is a former chairman of the New York Mercantile Exchange and after the Sept. 11 attacks founded a center devoted to combating terrorism.

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He's now the new owner of the Florida Panthers, said a person familiar with the situation.

Viola will be introduced in that role Friday after paying $250 million to buy the NHL franchise, the person said, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the terms have not been made public. The Panthers scheduled a Friday news conference to discuss ownership, but confirmed no other details.

``I know the parties are working very hard on a transaction and they're going to try to consummate it as quickly as possible,'' NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said earlier this week.

Viola will replace Cliff Viner, a longtime Panthers fan who became a co-general partner of the team in 2009 and took over as general partner, chairman and CEO the following year.

Viola is the chairman and CEO of Virtu Financial, an electronic trading firm with offices in the U.S., Singapore and Ireland. He's buying a franchise that has been to the playoffs only once since 2000 and finished with the fewest points in the NHL last season.

Viola graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1977, was a major in the U.S. Army Reserves and is a graduate of New York Law School. He's also long been involved with philanthropic projects and is a past winner of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

In 2003, he founded and helped fund the creation of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

Completing the sale will have an immediate effect on the on-ice product, at least in one respect. The move clears the way for the team to complete the signing of two-time Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas, a Stanley Cup-winning goaltender who took last season off before deciding that he wanted to return.

Thomas has been with the Panthers on a tryout deal, and it was believed that the team was waiting for the ownership change to be completed before wrapping up his signing.

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