HALIFAX, N.S. – Former NHL player Mike Danton – who was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder – has been cleared to play university hockey in Halifax in a move that has raised questions about the eligibility of pro athletes in varsity sports.
Correctional officials allowed Danton, who lives in Toronto and has been given full parole, to make the move, the athletic director at Saint Mary’s University said Wednesday.
Steve Sarty said Danton will join the university’s hockey team after his arrival, expected within days.
“When he lands here it’s going to be a bit of an abnormal situation, so we just want to make sure he’s comfortable and has some sense of normalcy,” said Sarty.
It’s not clear how quickly Danton, 29, will be able to settle into a quiet routine. His return to the game has sparked debate about the need for further eligibility restrictions for varsity sports.
Current rules set by Canadian Interuniversity Sport, the governing body for athletics, allow him to play varsity hockey for three years.
Unlike CIS football, hockey players are not restricted by age caps and it’s up to individual universities to decide whether someone fits into their program.
“In the case of SMU, that’s the decision that they’ve made having done their due diligence. That would not necessarily have been the decision across the country,” said Marg McGregor, CEO for CIS.
McGregor said university hockey also presents some unique challenges because players are generally older when they return to school after playing in the junior ranks.
“It’s not unusual to have 25 or 26-year-olds playing men’s hockey. Virtually all our other sports intake is right out of high school,” said McGregor.
She acknowledged the Danton situation will likely rekindle discussion internally about existing eligibility rules.
“This is going to promote some conversation in our fraternity,” said McGregor.
“It’s definitely worthy of discussion and I would think that’s going to happen when our men’s hockey coaches meet in March at the national championships.”
Danton is not the first player with NHL experience to step back into university ranks.
Jared Aulin played 17 games with the Los Angeles Kings before joining the University of Calgary Dinos for the 2007-2008 season.
Aulin had 34 points in 16 games and finished third in Canada West scoring even though he was injured and didn’t skate in the playoffs.
He has since returned to pro hockey and is playing for the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL.
Danton won’t be suiting up with the Huskies right away, Sarty said.
“It’s more important for us to get him acclimatized to school, used to the routine,” he said.
Sarty said coach Trevor Stienburg, who has yet to see Danton skate, will make the call on when he starts.
The Huskies are ranked eight nationally and even though the players are accepting of their new teammate, Stienburg has to consider chemistry, Sarty said.
“The team is doing really well right now, so he wants to make sure that it’s a fit on the ice,” he said.
“The players are behind this and they know that if Mike Danton has a position, somebody else is going to have less ice time.”
Danton has completed some correspondence courses from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., and has enrolled in three sociology courses at Saint Mary’s.
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.
Danton was released from a U.S. prison in March of last year after he was convicted in 2004 in a murder-for-hire plot. He returned to Canada and was granted full parole last September after admitting to the National Parole Board the target of the plot was his father.