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How the US Army prepared one CEO for success in the NHL

Plagued by bankruptcy fears, the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers have been bogged down with money problems off the ice. Now, after shaking up its front office and reallocating funds, the team is focused on bringing the Stanley Cup home to South Florida.

The Panthers have an unusual plan for revamping its business: They’re bringing a military-type attitude to the front office. Panthers chairman, owner and governor Vincent Viola, who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and served in the 101st Airborne Division, has hired seven front-office staffers with military backgrounds.

Among the recent hires is Matthew Caldwell, president and CEO of Sunrise Sports and Entertainment, the parent company of the Florida Panthers. Caldwell told Yahoo Finance’s Seana Smith in the video above how he is taking the skills he learned as a captain in the US Army to the National Hockey League.

“There are a lot of similarities between soldiers and hockey players. They take a team-oriented approach,” said Caldwell. “It’s a blue collar, hard-work mentality. Being in the Army for five years and leading soldiers from every ethnicity, every background, really helps you prepare for when you come in and try to lead a business.”

Caldwell served from 2002-2007 in Germany with deployments to both Iraq and Kosovo. But he’s also spent some time on Wall Street. Caldwell worked in financial services at Goldman Sachs as a vice president and was a managing director at Virtu Management.

One of the biggest concerns for Caldwell in his first year at Sunrise Sports and Entertainment is building attendance. “It all starts with season tickets and getting more fans interested in the team and filling the building. Tickets drive everything. It excites our players … It’s all about getting out in the community, spreading the brand and getting people in the seats.” The Florida Panthers ranked 24 in the league for attendance for the 2015-2016 season with an average of 15,384 fans per game. While there’s room for improvement, it’s significantly better than the previous season, when the team ranked last in the league with an average attendance of 11,265.

In terms of generating a larger fan base, Caldwell says it starts at the junior hockey level. “We have a practice facility where we have a junior Panthers team. We’re building a rink alliance with five other rinks in South Florida that all have travel teams, because we think if we can get in with the youngest generation and teach them the game of hockey, not only does that create a hockey fan but presumably their parents and siblings [will become fans] as well.”

And for all the skeptics out there, Caldwell says the team is “here to stay in South Florida.” The team’s owners, he says, “have signed top, young talent to long-term deals. Right now we have 10 players on the hockey team that have five or more years on their contracts. They’re proving it’s a great product.”