Mike Danton hasn't played professional hockey since 2003-04. (Photo By Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
Talk about headline news for the CIS; in particular the Atlantic University Sport conference.
Former NHLer Mike Danton, who served five years in a U.S. jail for conspiring to kill his agent David Frost – or his own father, depending on who you believe – is ready to join the St. Mary’s Huskies.
Where do I begin?
I regularly follow Toronto Star columnist Damien Cox and his view on this situation is one I’m sure many agree with. He writes that Danton’s return to school is tremendous, but says allowing him to play hockey is “nothing short of embarrassing” to the school and the league. After describing him as a “one-man wrecking crew,” Cox said he believes Danton’s 161 games of professional hockey should make him ineligible to play an interuniversity sport, which is generally classified as amateur hockey.
Now he has certainly raised some valid points, but as someone who strongly believes in rehabilitation and reintegration, I respectfully disagree with Cox. Given the number, and severity, of the obstacles Danton has been through, I think he’s ready for another chance. If put in the same situation, it seems hockey would be the first thing I would remove myself from and many players would have rolled over and died long before Danton did. His long-time battle with Frost is something all players, parents and coaches fear. In Danton’s case, though, he fought most of his battles without the support or guidance from parental figures.
I remember speaking with Danton’s brother Tom while he was playing for the Oshawa Generals in 2005. I lived down the street from the Jefferson household while playing for the Brampton Battalion in the Ontario League. It was heartbreaking to speak with Tom because there was nothing to say; the family seemed to completely break all ties with Danton. It seemed as if there was something to hide, but who was I to ask?
So I say: Good for Danton and kudos to the Huskies for taking on a player with such baggage.
Regarding Cox’s comments on his track record in professional hockey, I shake my head once again. The CIS is largely made up of players with major junior and professional experience.
Only a few seasons ago, I was fortunate to line up against the likes of Corey Perry, John Tavares, Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos and Bobby Ryan. Not only does the addition of a player with 92 games in the NHL not worry me, there have been others come before him with more impressive track records (Jared Aulin’s 224 NHL/AHL games before joining the Calgary Dinos in the CIS in 2007-08). Often, players come into the league having been drafted to the NHL or spent time in the ECHL, AHL, or at NHL training camps. Following graduation, many go on to net NHL contracts.
Lastly, Cox goes on to say schools carefully protect the age of their roster, “so the kid who graduates high school on time and would like to attend university at the age of 18 and perhaps play for his school? No chance.”
Speaking from my three year CIS experience, I’ve never seen a player attend training without being formally invited. Most players, myself included, chased our dream of playing in the NHL by way of major junior hockey in the CHL or elsewhere. By the time we reached 21, you’re officially too old.
And so, considering the CHL now offers full tuition, books and compulsory fees for each year played in the league, it only makes sense to take full advantage of that opportunity. As a result, as Cox points out, the St. Mary’s Huskies have players 25 years of age (Marc Rancourt) and so do other teams around the league.
Sure, Danton is pushing 30. I’m not saying he’ll bring a light of youthfulness to the CIS, but he definitely deserves a chance, if not an opportunity to compete for a position. This way, we can reintegrate people back into the places in society they’re comfortable with. And for Mike Danton, that’s on the ice.
I completely welcome the addition.
Jason Cassidy is a right winger for St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick. He spent four seasons in the Ontario League's with the Brampton Battalion and St. Michaels Majors. He is from Whitby, Ont., and is working towards a degree in journalism and will blog on THN.com about his CIS and OHL career regularly. Read his other blogs HERE.