HALIFAX, N.S. – It was only a few short steps from his chair to the podium and a wall of television cameras, but for Mike Danton it was a walk he hoped would take him a million miles from his past.
In his first public comments since coming to Halifax, the former NHL player – who was convicted and did time for a failed murder-for-hire plot – said he wants to put his troubled history behind him.
Danton, the newest member of the Saint Mary’s University Huskies hockey team, said he just wants to focus on being a student and hockey player.
“Excuse the dress code,” he quipped, wearing a T-shirt and jeans as he entered a room flanked by more formally attired university officials who’d come to support him.
“I had class until 11:15 and I wasn’t going to go to sociology and psychology class dressed in a suit,” he added, quickly gushing about the three 100 per cent test scores he has received since arriving at the school last week.
He said he was appreciative of the opportunity he’s been given to pursue his studies and play the game he loves.
“It’s one of those things where I think we all make mistakes … The severity of those mistakes is what differs, but when it comes down to it, I think that everybody deserves a second chance. Where would we be if we weren’t given second chances?” he said.
“Saint Mary’s have been good enough to open up their arms and accept me, not just the university and coaching staff, not just the guys, but the community as a whole.”
Danton, 29, said he knows that, given his criminal history, his age and his professional hockey experience, not everyone is happy that he’s playing varsity hockey.
“I have no control over what people say or do. I only have control over what I do,” said Danton, who has committed to staying at the university regardless of what offers may come along.
Although it is not yet clear when Danton will play, he skated with the Huskies in practice for only the second time later Thursday trying to boost his fitness.
Danton looked comfortable in a series of speed drills and his puck handling showed he hadn’t lost much despite his six-year absence from the game.
He has two years of Canadian Interuniversity Sport eligibility left and is considering a future in either sports psychology or coaching at some level.
Danton is living in coach Trevor Stienburg’s home, whose own father worked for the National Parole Board for many years.
Stienburg said lessons about second chances were taught to him at a very young age and he sees his new charge as being no different.
“If an artist were to come out of prison, would you take away his paint brushes?” said Stienburg.
“If anybody were to take 30 seconds and go for a walk with the guy, you’d see a whole other side to him. Everyone he’s met so far is swayed to the point where this is the right decision.”
Stienburg said Danton was not in game shape and it will be a while before he gets to play, even though he’s got a strong work ethic.
“He’s skated once with us. He doesn’t deserve to be in the lineup right now,” said Stienburg, whose ninth-ranked CIS squad has two games this weekend.
“Yeah, he’s an ex-NHLer, but he’s an ex-NHLer who hasn’t played in six years.”
Danton was released from a United States prison in March of last year after he was convicted in 2004 in a failed murder-for-hire plot. He returned to Canada and was granted full parole last September.
The prosecution in the case in the U.S. said the target of the plot was David Frost, his agent at the time, but Danton – in a convoluted exchange at the National Parole Board in 2009 – suggested the intended victim was his father.
The target of the plot was not identified in the agreed statement of facts that was part of the court record when Danton pleaded guilty.
A return to the NHL is unlikely because his criminal record would prevent him from travelling to the U.S.
He scored 10 goals in 92 games with the St. Louis Blues and New Jersey Devils over the course of his short NHL career.