Following is a transcript of Mike Danton’s press conference on Thursday at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. The former NHLer who spent five years in prison after he was convicted of a plot to kill his former agent practised with the Saint Mary’s Huskies on Wednesday and could play for the team later this semester.
Participants in the press conference were not permitted to ask “questions about the incident that landed (Danton) in jail, nor the individuals involved.”
OPENING STATEMENT: Hi … If you don’t know, I’m Mike. Excuse the dress code, but I had class until 11:15 and I wasn’t going to wear a suit to sociology and psychology, so this is me in school. I think everyone, from Steve (Sarty, athletic director), coach (Trevor Stienburg) and (captain Marc Rancourt) summed it up pretty well. Not much I can add to that. I’m excited for the opportunity, I’m obviously appreciative. Like they’ve all said, I appreciate the privacy everyone’s given me. That means a lot. I’m looking forward to having a positive experience here, move forward, like they’ve said, leave the past behind and that’s it. I guess we might as well get this on the road. Who’s got questions?
QUESTION: What do you think about the criticism of some that you’re too old, an ex-NHLer and also the criminal past … What do you make of the criticism?
MIKE DANTON: The criticism … What is criticism, really … I’m old and 29 yeah but I’m also six years removed. Criticism comes in all forms. It’s one of those things where people deserve a second chance. Saint Mary’s has been good enough to open up their arms and accept me. Not just university, the guys, not just the coaching staff, but the community as a whole. I’ve had comments from students on campus, from people at grocery stores and I haven’t heard one negative thing. Everything’s ‘Good luck, we wish you the best.’ So criticism, I don’t know, because I haven’t seen any.
Q: If we could just play a hypothetical, you’re on the ice, are you prepared when some guy faces off and says, ‘I’ve never played against a felon before,’ or ‘If I hit you Danton, are you gonna hire a hit man?’ Are you expecting that?
MD: I have no control over what people say or do. I only have control over what I do.
Q: But do you expect it?
MD: I’ve learned to expect the worst and hope for the best. I’m expecting any and all sorts of criticism but when it comes down to it, I know how I deal with that. If someone wants to say something, they can say it. We’ll go up the ice and score a goal and it will be 1-0. So I guess we’ll get the last laugh.
Q: Do you feel you owe Halifax an apology as a result of obnoxious conduct when you were here (with the Barrie Colts) at the (2000) Memorial Cup.
MD: That’s in the past. I’d like to apologize to the city of Halifax. I was a lot younger, I’ve matured, grown up and I take responsibility for my actions and my team’s actions and I apologize and I think we can all move on.
Q: Is the controversy about your age or about your criminal record?
MD: Is 29 really that old? It’s one of those things where I think everyone here at SMU has looked into the rules and regulations and I’m well within the parameters of playing. There are other student-athletes who have played … to the age of 47 in Canadian university. I’m not taking math this semester but what’s that? Eighteen years, a little bit older than me. I think more the controversy comes from the fact that I’ve done some prison time. But I think that … That’s one of those unknowns. People just don’t know what to expect. I’ve walked around campus for a week. The first couple of days, I got double and triple looks. A week after that, everyone’s very cordial, ‘Hi, how ya doin,’ … They don’t know the person. But 29’s not that old. Cut me some slack.
Q: Why do you think you should be given a second chance?
MD: Why shouldn’t I be?
Q: I’d like to hear why you think you should be?
MD: It’s one of those things where, I think we’ve all made mistakes, including yourself, 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. Take a look back. Would you have a job right now? Would everybody in this room be in the same position they are now?
Q: Why Saint Mary’s?
MD: Saint Mary’s was a fairly easy choice. What got to me was … There were a few other universities that I was speaking with but what really reached out to me was the extra mile everyone was willing to go, the fact the captain of the team called me, spoke to me for 30, 35, 40 minutes … The fact that they had a team meeting … The fact that all the guys were on board. The day after we spoke, they day after (captain Marc Rancourt) and I spoke, I texted with a couple of the guys and had been in communication with two or three of the guys for about five or six days before I got here. I got the feeling, one of the things I’ve missed … I love the game of hockey, obviously, but the one thing I’ve missed is that camaraderie in the dressing room, that close-knit feeling. I felt that immediately here, all the way down from the players, the coaching staff, to the front office, and I saw it first hand when I got here within the whole campus. So … It was very easy to me. You ask, why Saint Mary’s? Because they opened up their arms to me, they proved they were going to give me that second chance that I was looking for and to me, I go on instincts and that was to me, what was outstanding about the whole situation.
Q: When will you practice, when will you play and if the phone rings and it’s a 40-game AHL contract, will you leave?
MD: I can give you some tidbits now … I practised yesterday (Wednesday). You missed that. When will I play? You’d have to ask coach (Trevor Stienburg) on that. I’ve got to get back into shape. I’ve gotta get into appropriate shape and whenever the coach decides he’s going to give me an opportunity to play, that’s out of my realm. Contract …
Q: Basically, is this a jumping point to get back into professional hockey. If it’s about academics, you stay and get your degree, if it’s about hockey, you leave the first chance you get to make a pay cheque playing hockey.
MD: I think, to nip that in the bud right away, if this was hockey, I wouldn’t have gone to school. I wouldn’t have gone to school. I could have gone down other avenues, senior league, stuff like that. I’ve been removed from the game for six years … (laughs) … A lot of time to think. You know, what it proved to me is that anything can happen at any given time. My first game back, I could get hit from behind into the boards and never be able to play hockey again. Education is important. One of those things you should always listen to your parents about as kids … Education, no, boom, let’s go pro. But if someone offers something, am I gonna split town and jump? No. Do I love the game of hockey? Yes, of course. Do I want to play at the professional level again? Yes, of course, just like every single one of the guys on the hockey team does, just like every single guy on the football 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, not an athlete-student. I have to put books and school ahead of hockey at this point because without that, the hockey doesn’t come.
Q: You have limitations, you can’t play in the States?
MD: As of right now, I can’t travel into the United States, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m here at Saint Mary’s. I’m not going anywhere in the foreseeable future and I’m committed to the program, the school, the athletics and I think that’s really …
Q: What degree are you after?
MD: I’d like to major in psych.
Q: How are you liking your classes?
MD: Actually, I’m doing pretty good. Three tests, 100 per cent on all three of ’em, so I’m not doin’ that bad. Do I like them? Yeah. I’m taking intro to sociology, intro to psychology, and intro to English lit. I even got the lingo down, the abbreviations and all that.
Q: Is it fair for you to play at this level given your age and experience?
MD: What’s this age thing everyone’s talking about?
Q: What about your experience?
MD: Is it fair? Well, yeah, why isn’t it fair? For other players? Well there are other players who have played pro, other teams in the hockey circuit that have added players after Christmas in our conference that have played in other professional leagues. So experience, really …
Q: What do you see for yourself beyond hockey?
MD: Obviously education.
Q: To what end?
MD: I’d like to get a degree. If you’re asking, when hockey’s over, what am I going to do, psychology in sport or coaching to some degree. I love the game, I’ve been removed for six years, but that’s where my heart is. I want to do something in hockey. I think that my experiences and my past can help with sports psychology and children who have similar backgrounds to me, so getting a sociology degree is paramount in what I want to do after hockey.
Q: Most of the varsity coaches here, a lot of their student-athletes go into the community. The Mike Danton story is a fascinating biography … Would you be willing to go into the Maritime community, speak with teams at risk? Five minutes with Mike Danton would be more resonating than, perhaps, your standard fare.
MD: Of course. I’ve done a lot of work in the past when I played (elsewhere) dealing with troubled teens and abused children and that. Of course. But before I do anything like that I need to get used to the routine, get my feet on the ground. Once I’m comfortable, I can branch out and help other people.
Q: What assurances have you given your teammates or the people at Saint Mary’s or others in Halifax that your negative influences are behind you.
MD: Assurances … (sighs) … I think it’s what they see on a daily basis. Everybody knows the scenario. They don’t know the truths of the facts behind it and they don’t know the person behind it. When I talked with (captain Marc Rancourt) for that initial discussion he voiced some of the issues and asked some questions, I answered the questions, and with the (locker) room unanimous about them wanting me here, they had their validity that everything, all their concerns with me were no longer there. There is still, most likely, a little bit of question, hey, the first time he plays, what’s going to happen, and it’s just a matter of trust. One thing I’ve recognized is, I’ve already got three strikes. I could look at it from a selfish standpoint and say, ‘If I screw this up, there’s absolutely nothing else for me.’
Q: What’s the biggest challenge you face coming back on the ice?
MD: The biggest challenge? I’d say getting my cardio back up to where (it needs to be). My timing’s off a little bit but that’s gonna come. I just want to be a part of the team. Wherever coach decides to play me, wherever that falls into it, it’s up to him, but I really just want to be part of the environment.
Q: There’s a lot of information permeating around … Did you approach UPEI and did they say no?
MD: I’m not going to get into who I approached, who approached me and what was said. There are other universities. To save face with all the interested parties, I appreciate the interest and I’m proud to be here at Saint Mary’s and I look forward to a positive experience.
Q: Mike, right now, do you figure to be back here in September?
MD: One hundred per cent.
Q: Live here in the summer?
MD: I don’t know. The one thing is, I’ve been away from family and friends for almost six years. What I did make a commitment to is the very worst case scenario (which would be) if I wasn’t here in the summer, I would take a full load of correspondence courses when I was back home, but right now, I don’t know, I’ve been here just a little bit more than a week.
Q: Are you getting any financial support, scholarships or bursaries to pay for your education?
MD: No, I’m paying for everything.