Conspiracy. Abuse. Murder. Three words that have no earthly business with hockey. Yet they were all inextricably woven together by one event, in a whirlwind that seemed better suited for a Hollywood movie than a playoff hockey headline. It was the case of Mike Danton, a young player just trying to get his start in the NHL. And it’s a story that reminds us all that the truth is often deeper than the first glance.
It was April of 2004. The upstart San Jose Sharks had just ousted Danton’s St. Louis Blues squad from the playoffs. By hockey accounts, it was a bittersweet time for young Danton. Though his team had lost, Danton played admirably, even notching his first career playoff goal after undressing a Sharks defenseman with a beautiful move. What no fan could see, however, was the chaos lurking in the shadows of Danton’s mind. He would soon fall victim to his own paranoia.
Danton’s story is far different than most NHLers. He grew up Mike Jefferson in Brampton, Ontario, one of the largest suburbs of Toronto; the same town that produced current stars like Rick Nash and Tyler Seguin. His youth was marred by strife at home. His father, Steve Jefferson, was an abusive alcoholic. At a young age, Danton became disillusioned by his home life, and sought refuge with a coach that took a keen interest in him, David Frost. By his teen years, he and Frost had become inseparable. Danton saw him as a father figure, Frost saw Danton as his star pupil.
This is where the story starts to get hazy. In 2000, Mike’s younger brother Tom came to visit him at an Ontario cottage, along with other kids and Frost. Tom returned to his parent’s house very distraught, claiming he had been duct-taped naked to a bunk bed against his will. No investigation ever came from this incident.
The relationship between Danton and Frost continued to spiral into bizarre depths. Danton, though an undersized player that relied more on tenacity than natural skill, managed to become a fifth-round draft selection of the New Jersey Devils. Danton’s agent? None other than Frost. Even after his trade to St. Louis, Frost would often stay at Danton’s apartment. Perhaps the greatest tale of Frost’s obsessive control over Danton’s life was described by CBC Sports reporter Elliotte Friedman. I won’t spend time paraphrasing it, as its importance to this story cannot be understated. The article can be found HERE.
In 2003-04, Mike Danton had his greatest success as an NHL player. He played in 68 games, netting 12 points over that span. However, even by his own admission, he wasn’t fully invested in the game. He spent nights at strip clubs and drank heavily. Coaches wondered where his brain was at times.
On April 16th, 2004, we found out exactly where his brain was. Danton was arrested in a San Jose airport, accused of a murder-for-hire plot in which the accomplice was recruited by Danton to kill Frost. Danton proclaimed (and does to this day) that his actual target was his estranged father, Steve Jefferson. The plan was never carried out. Even from his prison cell, Danton continued his contact with Frost, who seemingly was giving Danton advice on how to proceed (Read one of the transcripts HERE ). Danton plead guilty and was sentenced in October of 2004 to 90 months in prison.
Over eight years has passed since that time. Danton is out of prison and has spoken publicly about the incident. Two years after Danton’s arrest, Frost was indicted on 12 counts of sexual exploitation stemming from incidents ranging from 1995-2001. Frost was found not guilty, never served any jail time and is currently coaching hockey in California under a new name, Jim McCauley.
Danton’s post-prison life is far better. While he will likely never lace up a pair of skates in the NHL again, he hasn’t stopped playing hockey. He’s currently playing for the Kramfors Alliance in the Swedish Division I League. After his release from prison, he played hockey at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he was an Academic All-Canadian with a 3.9 GPA. In one of his first professional games overseas, Danton potentially saved the life of a teammate, Marcus Bengtsson. Bengtsson had hit his head on the ice and began having seizures. Danton, who had taken first aid training while in prison, controlled Bengtsson’s tongue to prevent him from choking during convulsions. He’s gone on to make a complete recovery.
As far as the state of his relationship with Frost, Danton has been opaque in his description, merely stating that Frost continues to be a part of his life. Danton has not reconnected with either of his biological parents.
Often in life, we get caught up in our own worldview. We have to; it’s how we survive and function. But it makes it very easy to forget how different we all are. How easily we are influenced by our environment, by all that exists around us. For Danton, that environment was Frost. When Danton had nowhere else to turn, he could count on Frost. And that lead the young Danton to trust him, on a level that adults would find unconscionable, but that a troubled teen would find comforting. He was secure.
The rest of Danton’s journey won’t be easy. We can never shed our pasts. We wear them either as a badge of honor or a scarlet letter, and we carry them with us forever. Danton can never outrun his actions; can never escape his former influences. But distance and time cleanses the soul. One can only hope that Danton is well on that road.
Photo Credits: Halifax