By: Dan Marrazza
When you bring up the name Mike Danton to people in hockey, a lot of different thoughts are conjured. None of them are pleasant.
The thoughts center on Danton’s involvement in one of the ugliest episodes in the sport’s history, when he hired a hitman – who turned out to be an undercover police officer – in a failed murder-for-hire plot that targeted his controversial former agent, David Frost.
When the whole sordid episode concluded, Danton was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison, of which he served 65 months. Although only 24 at the time his NHL career was halted, and it was clear the hockey world preferred to forget Danton ever existed.
But while most of hockey prefers to keep its memories of Danton out of sight, out of mind, he suddenly has the chance to reintroduce himself to the North American public in a big way.
Danton was recently approved and named to Poland's national team, where six years after being released from prison, he has resumed his hockey career.
Should Poland win a four-team round robin this winter and another next fall, Danton, 35, would be eligible to play in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
“Of course, I would love to play in the Olympics,” Danton recently told The Hockey News, just hours after making his Polish national team debut in a 2-1 loss against most of the players who represented Slovenia in the 2014 Olympics.
“I think that would be a great honor and achievement. I have already played in the best league in the world, and for me to have an opportunity to play against the best of the best again, after so many years away from the game, it would be a huge accomplishment.”
Although not nearly the player he was when he skated for the New Jersey Devils and St. Louis Blues, his efforts to fix his troubled life have been commendable.
Since his release from prison in 2009, Danton has built a life remarkably stable for a man of his background. Along with his longtime girlfriend, Nancy, he’s the father of two young children and closing in on a degree in psychology from Saint Mary’s University in Halifax that he began studying toward in prison.
On the ice, he’s in his third season in the Polska Hokej Liga with KH Sanok, where he won a championship in 2014. A series of adventures and misadventures saw him play in Sweden, Austria, Slovakia, Romania, Kazakhstan, and almost, the U.K., where he was twice denied entry into the country due to his criminal background.
“I am not sure of any other countries that I am not allowed to play in or visit except for the United Kingdom,” Danton said. “However, I have been told that if I receive my Polish passport, I am now a member of the European Union and will not have any trouble entering the U.K.
“Currently, I am also waiting for my approval to re-enter the United States. I submitted my waiver application more than 15 months ago…they seem to take their time with my paperwork. We will see.”
Although countries like the United Kingdom and the United States haven’t been safe havens for Danton, Poland certainly has been. And thanks to some of Danton’s distant biological relatives who originated in Poland prior to the family’s immigration to Canada in the early 20th century, the process of his receiving Polish citizenship has been expedited.
“There are just some minor details that must be taken care of and all should be good,” Danton said. “The language is very difficult. I have mastered some of the finer words and phrases. However, most of the people know enough English for everyone to have decent conversation.
“Polish hockey is of good calibre. I believe that Poland has the skill and determination to make a very serious run for promotion into the Olympics.”
For Poland to qualify for the Olympics, it will have to win two round robin tournaments, where its competition will be the likes of Hungary, Lithuania and a series of possible opponents that includes most of the bottom finishers from recent Olympic tournaments. If this happens, it could create an awkward scenario for those associated with the NHL, who you’d have to think shudder at the thought of Danton lining up across from someone like Sidney Crosby on national TV.
“I am sure that if Poland made the Olympics and we were to play against Team Canada, all of the ‘intellects’ would come out of the woodwork and have something clever to say,” Danton said. “I'll be honest, in recent years, the way I have been portrayed in the media has affected me. Everyone makes mistakes. I have mentioned the names before of (Dany) Heatley and (Michael) Vick, and how they are part of society again, whereas I am not in their (media’s) eyes.
“One thing I have learned in life is that it is very difficult to change people’s opinions of you, especially if they don't want to change their opinions.”