Mike Jefferson grew up like so many Canadian kids, obsessed and intent on playing in the National Hockey League. But along the way, so much changed, including his last name. He changed his name from Jefferson to Danton. He did make the NHL in a round about way and for a short time but his big league career ended when he went to prison for his amateurish murder-for-hire plot. The Lost Dream by Steve Simmons isn’t simply his improbable story: It is a sad and shocking story of blind faith, of fractured families, of lives ruined, of faith destroyed: It is a hockey tree of discomfort with too far many twists, too many branches, too many unexplainable turns. “I didn’t want to read it,” said Brian Burke, the Maple Leafs general manager. “But I couldn’t put it down.”
After midnight on April 16, 2004, Steve Jefferson picked up the phone and called Bob Goodenow.
Earlier that night, he was in his usual perch, in the living room, watching hockey. The Ottawa Senators beat the Leafs 4–1 to knot their first-round playoff series at two games apiece. After the game, CBC’s The National came on. The lead story that night: Mike Danton had been arrested in San Jose in the botched murder-for--hire plot.
With his heart racing and pounding, his face red and his body shaking, Steve could think of nothing but the hope that Goodenow might shed some light on a situation that had, impossibly, gone from horrific to even worse. He dialled and dialled and the phone rang and rang. “I would call him over and over again,” said Steve. “But I couldn’t contact him.”
This went on for days. Steve Jefferson would call and there would be no response. “After a while, the whole thing was making me a little crazy. You have to understand. My son was arrested. And the one person who I thought could help him wouldn’t take my calls.”
Then, after several days of trying, Steve got a call from Goodenow’s lawyer. “Bob has asked me to speak with you on his behalf,” said the unfamiliar voice.
The one time Steve really needed Goodenow’s help, he was nowhere to be found.
“I don’t give a fuck who you are,” Steve shouted. “I don’t want to talk to you. You tell Bob I want to talk to him.”
What Steve Jefferson didn’t know at the time was that just a few nights before Mike was arrested in San Jose for attempting the hit on Frost, Goodenow had been out for dinner in St. Louis with Danton and Frost after Game 2 of the Sharks–Blues series. He had also been to the Blues’ home playoff games against the Sharks, seated in the press box beside Frost.
“I never knew who Frost was,” said Larry Pleau, then general manager of the Blues. “Certainly, I’d read about him and heard about him, and everybody kind of knew the stories that had been around, but I didn’t know what he looked like. The first time I ever saw him was in the press box that night when I asked somebody, ‘Who’s that with Bob?’”
That very morning, Mike Danton was trying to arrange Frost’s death on the telephone. Four days later, Danton was in prison. Yet it took almost two weeks for Goodenow to personally contact Steve Jefferson.
“Hey Steve,” he called one day out of the blue, sounding casual and, as always, in control. “What’s going on?”
“You tell me what’s going on,” said Steve.
Jefferson had tried for days to get to Goodenow, a powerful man, a voice of reason, someone he thought he could get an answer from or at least some advice. Their conversation didn’t get very far. Goodenow offered no help of any kind. “We’ll have to let the legal system take care of this and the truth will come out,” Jefferson remembers Goodenow saying.
Steve Jefferson hung up the phone frustrated. After a decade of being placated by Goodenow, showered with tickets, that was it. Years earlier, when Goodenow wanted a coaching change at the minor-hockey level so he could return to a position of influence himself, he crafted a letter supposedly written by the parents on the Toronto Red Wings’ minor-hockey team. He wrote the letter, complaining about the man coaching their team, indicating the parents were fed up and wanted change. The letter was unsigned. The first parent he took the letter to was Steve Jefferson.
“I signed the bloody thing and I didn’t even agree with it,” said Steve. “I did it because Bob Goodenow gave it to me to sign. That’s the way things worked with Bob. He used his influence whenever and wherever he could. And he knew once I signed the letter, everybody else would sign. That’s the way it worked around him. Everybody else signed it. We got rid of the coach. And Goodenow and his buddy were again in charge of the team.
“The truth in all this, Goodenow is an asshole. He got along with me because he knew I would be the voice to the parents. He used me. And when I needed him, where was he?”
Steve Jefferson thought about that, how he had gone to bat for Goodenow, and when he needed Goodenow’s help the most, it was nowhere to be found. That disingenuous phone call in 2004, after Mike’s arrest, was the last time they would ever speak.
The late Bill Wirtz, owner of the Chicago Blackhawks, was considered a backwards operator in almost all facets of the modern hockey world. For some reason, though, Wirtz took great personal interest in the Mike Danton–David Frost murder-for-hire story. He didn’t know either man. But as someone deeply involved with the develop-ment of minor hockey in Illinois, he wanted to understand what few cared to ask about. He wanted to know how the Danton–Frost relationship came to be, and what part the NHL and NHLPA played in facilitating that relationship.
The year before his death, Wirtz sent a letter, dated August 23, 2006, addressed to Ted Saskin, then executive director of the NHLPA (Goodenow’s short-lived successor) and copied to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his deputy, Bill Daly. In the letter, Wirtz, the former chair of the NHL’s board of governors, called the Danton–Frost incident “the worst event that I have experienced in fifty years associated with the NHL.”
Wirtz went on in the letter to blame Goodenow for Frost’s certification as a player agent, which enabled him to be ultra-involved in the lives of those players he had already controlled. “Right from the get-go this incident had great potential to damage the NHL,” Wirtz wrote to Saskin, Bettman, and Daly. “Mr. Goodenow said he did not think so and continued to certify him (Frost) as an agent representing young hockey players …
“The NHL’s hands were tied from giving us further help because they were engaged in collective bargaining with the NHLPA, who insisted that David Frost was certified after a thorough investigation by your Association as well as your special committee. Who reviews these applications?
“Would you please send me the names and addresses of the gentlemen who served on the agent certification committee? …
“In short, I am appalled by the handing of this time bomb. We all know the inappropriate handling of this matter is Bob Goodenow, who is counting his $8 million (having been pushed out of the PA) in Florida.”
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