Fall 2015

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106 Venice uring yet another torrid South Florida summer, Florida Panthers Executive Chairman Peter Luukko can be found hard at work at the BB&T Center, preparing for a season of high expectations in a market that has long been hesitant to embrace the chilly appeal of the National Hockey League. Luukko, who oversaw the Philadelphia Flyers for more than 25 years as president and CEO of Comcast-Spectacor, left the sports world in 2013 to spend more time with his family, but was lured out of a retirement this year after meeting with Panthers co-owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu at the behest of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. "After seeing their passion, I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great to work with these guys?'" Luukko recalls. "To be able to really turn it around here and make Florida a hotbed is exciting…I liked their structure, their energy, their passion and how direct they were." At Comcast-Spectacor, Luukko, 56, helped build and oversee three subsidies: Global Spectrum, which manages more than 125 stadiums, arenas and public assembly venues around the world; Ovations Food Services; and New Era Tickets. He was a member of the NHL Board of Governors and was named one of Billboard's Power 100 in 2012 and 2013. It was also during this time that Luukko, who describes hockey as a "lifestyle business," found that his professional and personal lives would never be mutually exclusive as long as he worked in the world of pucks and pads. He grew close to several of the organization's top players, including All-Star defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who, for one memorable night, even served as an honorary family member. "We were at a fundraiser," says Luukko, already beginning to chuckle. "We were meeting some people who weren't necessarily hockey people, and a couple came up an introduced themselves to me and my wife, Casey, and Kimmo was there. They looked at Kimmo and said, 'Oh, and this must be your son.' Now, Kimmo was like 35 at the time, and we couldn't stop laughing. "At one point, I was talking to another couple and Kimmo walks up to me, taps me on the shoulder and says, 'Hey, Dad, if I'm good can we go to Six Flags?' Since joining the Panthers, Luukko has had an increasingly narrowed focus in his day-to-day routine, which is admittedly a welcomed change after his multifaceted tenure in Philadelphia. The Boston native's newly purchased residence in downtown Fort Lauderdale serves as a symbol of his long-term commitment to the organization, as he diligently works to change the culture surrounding hockey in South Florida. In only a short period of time, Luukko has positioned himself as the glue that holds everything together in the Panthers' front office, working closely with the team's ownership, as well as General Manager Dale Tallon, in an effort to establish an organizational identity both on and off the ice. Hoping to expedite this process, the team, according to Luukko, has already expanded its investment in the market fivefold for the upcoming season as it aims to increase its exposure in local communities. "I don't make trades, I don't tell coaches how to coach and I don't tell players how to play," Luukko says of his role within the organization. "I work with them all, in terms of our plan and our direction, serving as a sounding board for Dale. A big part of my role here is to put together a plan that Vinnie and Doug will have confidence in, and then implement that plan." For Luukko, the overall plan is simple: win a Stanley Cup. The Panthers came close in 1996, defeating Luukko's Flyers en route to their first and only Stanley Cup Finals appearance; they have qualified for the playoffs just three times since that improbable run. But as the organization continues to stockpile young talent, and coming off a season in which the Panthers finished as the most-improved team in the NHL, Luukko is confident that a return to the postseason could be on the horizon. And we'll be watching. v A LINE CHANGE The Florida Panthers' new executive chairman Peter Luukko aims to turn South Florida into a hockey haven. BY JAMESON OLIVE PORTRAIT BY EDWARD LINSMIER D "After seeing their passion, I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great to work with these guys?' To be able to really turn it around here and make Florida a hotbed is exciting." —Peter Luukko

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