HALIFAX, N.S. – A former NHL player convicted of conspiracy to commit murder who wants to play hockey for a Halifax university is awaiting permission from correctional officials to move from Toronto to Nova Scotia.
The Correctional Service of Canada said while it won’t comment on specific cases such as Mike Danton’s, it is generally supportive of anyone trying to reintegrate into society by returning to school.
“If you have an offender who is trying to reintegrate, CSC would typically take a position to support that,” said Holly Knowles, a spokeswoman for the agency.
But Knowles said public safety still has to be the primary focus before offenders would be allowed to make such a move.
“Is this a good plan? Is it safe?” she said. “It’s about lining up supervision.”
Craig Jones, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada, said Danton’s story is atypical, a kind of “man-bites-dog” story that is bound to arouse interest.
“We wish more people could come out of prison and attend university,” Jones said. “They are much less likely to reoffend if they have a university degree.”
Danton, 29, has enrolled in three sociology courses at Saint Mary’s University and is hoping to suit up with the Huskies for the remainder of their season.
Steve Sarty, Saint Mary’s athletic director, said the university’s administration and the varsity hockey team have all been extremely supportive of Danton’s proposed move.
“There will be pessimists and naysayers out there, but I prefer to think there’s a ton of upside in this situation,” said Sarty.
“I look forward to the day that Danton comes through my office, and I shake his hand and let him know that we’re behind him 100 per cent.”
Danton has completed some correspondence courses from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., and, if allowed to move to Saint Mary’s, would arrive late for the winter semester that began Jan. 4.
Danton has two years of CIS eligibility left and would be joining a university team that is ranked eighth nationally.
A return to the NHL is unlikely because his criminal record would prevent him from returning to the United States.
He scored 10 goals in 92 games with the St. Louis Blues and New Jersey Devils over the course of his short NHL career.
“The most important thing is to get him some sense of normalcy, to get him into that routine of attending classes and practice and of being involved in something bigger than himself,” said Sarty.
But Danton’s planned return to the game is not being universally cheered.
A Toronto hockey columnist questioned Saint Mary’s decision, saying while he had no problem with Danton wanting to further his education, he could not support the notion of a former professional being allowed to play at the university level.
“People in Canada like to look down on some of the recruiting practices in NCAA sports, laugh at the notion of the American ‘student-athlete,”‘ Cox wrote on his blog Tuesday.
“Having Danton play CIS hockey is nothing short of embarrassing, both to the school and Canadian university sport.”
It is not often that an ex-NHLer drops into the ranks of university hockey and some Atlantic division coaches think he will have an impact on the game.
Darren Burns, coach of the Acadia University men’s hockey team, said he has a lot of respect for the Saint Mary’s program and his counterpart Trevor Stienburg.
Burns, whose team ranks fourth nationally, said it took courage for Stienburg – whom he describes as an old friend – to offer to take on Danton.
“I know Trevor’s a guy of integrity and I also know what his makeup is,” said Burns.
“Trevor’s dad was a prison chaplain and that’s where he got it. I know he gave Trevor some guidance and when those two guys are doing something, it’s all about the right reasons.”
Burns said he expects that even though Danton hasn’t played in over four years, he would be an impact player for the Huskies.
“He works hard and I’m sure he’ll make his presence felt right away.”
Danton was released from a U.S. prison in March of last year, returned to Canada and was granted full parole last September after admitting to the National Parole Board the target of his murder-for-hire plot was his father.
The lawyer who represented Danton during his parole hearing last year could not be reached for comment.
Danton said his childhood was dysfunctional and the relationship between him and his parents, Steve and Sue Jefferson, was strained.
He changed his surname, hasn’t talked to his father since he was about 15 and admitted to tearing up and sending back the letters they wrote to him in prison.