Danton describes his new life goals

By MONTY MOSHER Sports Reporter
Fri. Jan 22 - 4:46 AM

If Mike Danton can stickhandle through the opposition the way he stickhandled through a roomful of journalists on Thursday, he’ll score some goals for the Saint Mary’s Huskies before the end of the AUS hockey season.

The former NHL forward, who spent more than five years in prison for a failed murder-for-hire plot in the U.S. in 2004, said all the right things in his first media appearance since enrolling at Saint Mary’s for the second semester.

The 29-year-old Danton, a member of the St. Louis Blues when his criminal troubles began, said his time in Halifax is about education and a fresh start at a new life and not about a stepping stone to a professional contract. Out of game shape by his own admission, he had his first full practice with the Huskies on Wednesday and is unsure when head coach Trevor Stienburg will use him in a game.

"If this was about hockey, I wouldn’t have gone to school," Danton said, thanking the media and the public for allowing him to make a fairly quick transition to university life. "I could have gone down other avenues.

"You’re asking if somebody offers me something am I going to split town, and the answer is no. Do I love the game of hockey? Yes, of course. Do I want to play at the professional level again? Of course, just like every single one of the guys on the hockey team. That hasn’t left my dreams and aspirations.
"But what I do understand now is that in order for me to be successful in hockey, I need to be successful in school. I’m not allowed to play hockey if I don’t succeed in school. I’m a student-athlete and not an athlete-student."

Danton said he fully expects to be back on campus for 2010-11 and wants a degree. He’s taking courses in psychology, sociology and English literature, has had three tests so far and made 100 per cent on each, he said.

Danton’s appearance before the media was carefully managed, although Danton, who wore a long-sleeved T-shirt and jeans as he was coming from a class, answered questions freely and with great comportment for more than 20 minutes.

The university decreed in advance he would take no questions about the series of events that led to his incarceration, and there were no one-on-one interviews.

"I’m excited for the opportunity and I’m obviously appreciative," Danton said. "I’m just looking forward to having a positive experience here, to move forward and leave the past behind."

He had to fend off a few elbows. He was asked bluntly if a 29-year-old ex-con and a veteran of 92 NHL regular-season and playoff games deserves to be handed a hockey jersey at the university level, a criticism that has been levelled in various quarters since he arrived on campus.

He said he’s aware that his mistakes are more notorious than those of some other people, but nobody’s perfect.

"I think we’ve all made mistakes, including everybody in this room," he said. "The severity of those mistakes is what differs. But when it comes down to it, I think everybody deserves a second chance. Where would we be if we weren’t given second chances?"

Danton said he’s heard nary a negative word since he came to Halifax.

"Saint Mary’s has accepted me with open arms. I’ve heard comments from people on campus, people in grocery stores, and I haven’t heard one negative thing. Everything is like, ‘I wish you the best.’ So criticism, I haven’t seen any."

Danton, originally from Brampton, Ont., was paroled in September and has been out of hockey for nearly six seasons. He is hardly the brash junior who played for the OHL’s Barrie Colts in the 2000 Memorial Cup in Halifax. He was asked how he would respond if an opposing player began taunting him.

"I can’t control what people say or do, I only have control over what I do," he said. "I’ve learned to expect the worst and hope for the best. I’m expecting any and all sorts of criticism. If somebody wants to say something they can say it, but we’ll go up the ice and we’ll score a goal and I guess we’ll get the last laugh."

Danton also defended the question about his age. While he’ll be older than his teammates, the average age of a CIS hockey player is roughly 23.

"Is 29 really that old?" he said to laughter. "I think everyone here at SMU has looked into the rules and regulations and I’m well within the parameters of playing. There have been other student-athletes that have played at the age of 47 in Canadian university. I’m not taking math this semester, but that’s 18 years older than me. I think most of the controversy comes that I’ve done some prison time."

He spoke to more than one university about enrolling, but he said Saint Mary’s went the "extra mile." He said talking to captain Marc Rancourt and learning that the team was in full support of him helped seal the deal.

"I love the game of hockey and one of the things I’ve missed over the past few years was that camaraderie in the dressing room and that close-knit feeling. And I felt that immediately here."

Another factor supporting Danton’s contention that his time in Halifax is more about school than hockey is that he’s footing the bill. He said he’s getting no financial assistance from the university.

Stienburg said Danton won’t play in SMU’s game tonight at St. Francis Xavier and is unlikely to play at home on Saturday against Dalhousie.
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’I think we’ve all made mistakes, including everybody in this room. The severity of those mistakes is what differs. But when it comes down to it, I think everybody deserves a second chance. Where would we be if we weren’t given second chances?’

MIKE DANTON
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