Mike Danton fitting in with Huskies

PATRICK KENNEDY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:11 PM ET

KINGSTON — When Trevor Stienburg, the hockey coach of defending men’s Canadian university champion Saint Mary’s, first got wind of paroled felon Mike Danton’s interest in suiting up with his Huskies, he was blunt. Brutally blunt.

“I wanted nothing to do with the guy or his past,” Stienburg recalled candidly Monday as he wheeled through downtown Halifax en route to his son Matthew’s minor hockey game. “I knew his story and, frankly, I thought he’d be a distraction.

“I’m not a big second-chance person, which I know sounds strange coming from someone whose dad is a senior member of the national parole board.

“My players were the ones who opened my eyes,” he added.

He fast-forwards to a particularly rambunctious shift by Danton against the Manitoba Bisons at last spring’s Canadian Interuniversity Sport championships in Thunder Bay: A minute of mayhem from the feisty, former big-league forward who ate an elbow for his troubles.

“He had three terrific hits before a Manitoba player drove his elbow into Mike’s face,” said Stienburg, who grew up near Kingston. “Here he was bleeding on the bench, his mouth split wide open, probably half-concussed. He finished the game, in fact I don’t think he missed a shift.

“He’s a wind-up doll and he’s tough, trust me,” added the coach, who for a period boarded the player at his home.

Days after that Manitoba win, Stienburg, Danton, ex-Kingston Frontenac Justin Wallingford and the rest of the Huskies captured the school’s first national crown. Brad Smith’s golden goal ended a thrilling 3-2 overtime victory over the top-ranked Alberta Golden Bears.

Danton, a Brampton native, was a member of the St. Louis Blues when he was arrested in 2004 in a bizarre murder-for-hire plot allegedly involving his ex-agent David Frost. Danton served 5 1/2 years in prison. His parole officially ended last month.

“Since arriving here last Christmas, Mike’s been outstanding, a role model on and off the ice,” lauded Stienburg. “He’s unbelievable on the ice in terms of his effort and doing things right. But he’s also a straight A student, he speaks to kids in junior and senior high and at banquets. He’s really turned it around.”

Reached yesterday on campus at the Patrick Power Library, Danton, studying for Tuesday’s sports psychology mid-term, acknowledged his ‘mates’ “leap of faith” that ignited his comeback from cell to CIS champion.

“Stienny and the guys have been phenomenal,” said the 30-year-old Danton, who politely refused to answer questions on his personal life. “You have to understand that they only knew me through what they saw and read in the media. Understandably, there were concerns, and over time those concerns were answered. I didn’t hide anything.

“Obviously I have a different outlook now,” added the second-year psychology student with a 3.98 GPA and on track for a second straight academic All-Canadian honour. He mentioned a “heightened sense of accountability and responsibility.”

Stienburg has Danton playing with the aforementioned Smith and team captain Justin Munden, “our energy line,” he noted.

As for the team, he said, “we don’t change a lot. You don’t see us in first place for a couple of years and you won’t see us in sixth place for two years. We are who we are, we’ll let the UNBs have the 25-win seasons.”

Prior to taking over the men’s program at the beginning of the 1997-98 campaign, Stienburg had been working and coaching tier II hockey team in tiny East Hantz. He knew the area from his two seasons as a hard-nosed winger with the nearby Halifax Citadels of the American Hockey League.

In his sophomore season at St. Mary’s, Stienburg became the first hockey bench boss to bank back-to-back CIS coach-of-the-year awards

“Originally, I planned to give it three to five years and move on to something else,” reflected the one-time North Frontenac Flyer, who played 71 NHL games for the Quebec Nordiques. He’s compiled a 224-143-25 won-loss mark at St. Mary’s.

“Fourteen years later I’m still at it,” Stienburg said.

“It’s hard to walk away after winning the national championship, even though you’d be going out on top. Same thing if the team finished last, I doubt I could leave that situation either.”

This year, with two games remaining in the regular season, the defending champs, ranked sixth overall, boast a 16-9-1 mark and are coming off a 3-1 upset of arch-rival UNB, who hold down the No. 1 position.

If history teaches us anything, the Huskies are sitting pretty.

“Last year we finished up 16-8-2, then went 11-1 in the playoffs,” the coach pointed out. “I just took my hands off the wheel.”

As for Danton, whose troubled childhood has been well documented, he yearns to play pro again.

“We’ll see what happens,” he said. “If it doesn’t pan out, I’d like to work in child development or child psychology. I have a good history in that.

“I’m doing well. I’m happy.”


Videos

Photos