The hockey world always recognized that Mike Danton was out there. A center by trade, off-center by way of being. An odd duck for sure, maybe even a bit of a kook.
But someone who would hire a contract killer to take out another person?
Even for Danton, that one seemed too extreme to be possible.
Yet, that’s exactly the charge Danton, the St. Louis Blues center, has admitted he committed. Arrested at the San Jose (Calif.) Airport by FBI officers the morning after the Blues were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs by the San Jose Sharks, Danton was accused of being part of an alleged murder-for-hire scheme.
In a flash, this relatively unknown fourth-line pest zipped past Tonya Harding and became public enemy No. 1 among those who wear skates for a living.
Instead of spending the next decade making a living on the ice, Danton was put on ice for at least a few years after pleading guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to commit murder for hire.
According to the criminal complaint filed in an Illinois federal court, Danton, 23, told a female friend that a hit man would be coming from Canada to kill him. Danton asked the woman if she knew of someone who would kill this person for $10,000. The woman, identified in the complaint as Katie Wolfmeyer, 19, is also facing federal murder-for-hire charges.
The criminal complaint alleged Danton actually was trying to kill a male acquaintance after an argument in which the two fought over Danton's "promiscuity and use of alcohol." The complaint said Danton feared the unnamed acquaintance would talk to Blues management and destroy Danton's career.
Even for those familiar with Danton’s bizarre life story, this latest twist in the saga is difficult to fathom.
Born Oct. 21, 1980 in Brampton, Ont. a suburban community west of Toronto, he came into the world christened as Mike Jefferson. In July 2002, estranged from his family following a series of incidents he refuses to discuss, he legally changed his last name, choosing Danton, the same name as a youngster he’d met while working at a summer hockey school.
There’s never been any question that Danton possessed NHL-caliber talent. He won an Ontario bantam championship with the Toronto Young Nationals. He was a two-time 30-goal scorer in junior hockey, helping the Barrie Colts capture the Ontario Hockey League title in 1999-2000.
He mixed his scoring touch with an effective feistiness. That spring, Danton led all OHL players with 107 penalty minutes during the playoffs.
But there was always an unsettling undercurrent where Danton was involved, a strange and foolish side to him that too often boiled to the surface. He was twice traded in junior, walking out on the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors in the midst of the 1998-99 OHL season.
He was moved to the Colts, but even in successful times, Danton just couldn’t keep his nose clean. Prior to the Memorial Cup final against the Rimouski Oceanic, Danton slammed Oceanic star center Brad Richards, insisting the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League player wouldn’t last five games in the OHL.
Yes, that’s the same Richards who recently won the Conn Smythe Trophy for leading the Tampa Bay Lightning to its first Stanley Cup, the same Richards who finished tied for ninth in the NHL scoring race this season.
Rimouski blasted Barrie 6-2 in the final. Richards scored twice and collected a pair of assists, earning tournament MVP honors, later thanking Danton for the motivation.
After the defeat, Danton refused to shake Richards’ hands during the traditional post-playoff hockey ritual. "That just shows what kind of guy he is," Richards said at the time. "He looked away and just skated by."
The New Jersey Devils saw enough of a future in Danton beyond his bad judgment to claim him 135th overall during the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. But they would soon learn that Danton’s misdeeds were not merely the errors of an overzealous teenager.
In two successive seasons, Danton was suspended by the Devils. He sat out the entire 2001-02 campaign, refusing an assignment to the Albany River Rats of the American Hockey League, insisting he was suffering from an abdominal injury. Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello disputed Danton’s medical claim and that led to Danton uttering his now infamous remark about refusing to, "Drink any more of Lou’s Kool-Aid."
Back in the club’s good graces at the start of last season, Danton made his NHL debut, playing 17 games for the Devils and scoring his first two big-league goals. First-year New Jersey coach Pat Burns liked what he saw from the grinding, pesky Danton. "He fears absolutely nothing and that is something I can't teach," Burns said.
"He brings an edge."
Assigned to minor-league Albany in December 2002 after he griped about his lack of playing time, Danton again balked and was suspended. A month later, Danton served the Devils with legal papers, seeking to gain his release from the club. While the Devils won the Stanley Cup last spring, Danton sat at home, his hockey future once more in limbo.
During the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Danton was dealt to St. Louis for a third-round draft pick. With the Blues, Danton found a home as an efficient fourth-line performer, using his speed and offensive skills to contribute and his annoying attitude to agitate. He became an effective penalty killer. He shared the club lead with 141 penalty minutes.
Eventually, though, the old Danton returned. When the Blues played host to the Devils on Jan. 31, Danton sent a puck to the New Jersey dressing room prior to the game. It was the puck (according to the Devils, not Denton) that he’d sent into the net for his first NHL goal. Once more, his sophomoric behavior came back to haunt him and the insulted Devils spanked the Blues 4-1.
When his ice time was curtailed late in the season following a shoulder injury, Danton struggled to regain his spot in the lineup. This time, he didn’t complain, just worked hard to get his job back. People inside the game viewed this as a sign that maturity was finally finding a home within Danton’s psyche. He played all five playoff games as St. Louis fell to San Jose, scoring a goal in Game 4.
Freed from the Devils, it looked as though Danton’s career had turned the corner. Instead, the devils inside this young man who plays the game with an edge have finally taken him over the edge.
PHT: A comeback win in Game 3 gave Ottawa hope, and the Senators seek a repeat result tonight to level the series.
PHT: After coming back home in an 0-2 hole, the Sharks are now even with the Kings after holding on to win Game 4 Tuesday night.
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Highlights: Sharks even series with Kings
The San Jose Sharks capitalized on their scoring chances in the first period and the early part of the second period in Game 4 of their Western Conference semifinal series against the Los Angeles Kings. After falling behind by two goals, the Kings almost cut the lead in half in the second period, but the referee blew the play dead as the puck was about to cross the goal line. The series is now tied at two.
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