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 roundabout 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 far too 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.”
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On Easter Sunday, the day before St. Louis would play host to its first Stanley Cup playoff game that spring, the first home playoff game of Danton’s career, Mike picked up his cellphone and dialled 618-971-8149.
This was not your everyday pre-game preparation. He was calling Ronnie Jones. The two men had met a month earlier at a strip club in East St. Louis that Danton frequented, where Jones was employed as a bouncer.
You wouldn’t call what they had a friend–ship, but Jones knew who Danton was, and Danton was aware of who Jones was. Or, at least, he thought he was aware of who he was. He thought Jones was a professional hit man.
In the midst of the Stanley Cup playoffs, in the intensity of all that, Mike Danton called Ronnie Jones and offered to pay him to murder his agent, David Frost.
He made that shocking call on Easter Sunday, according to the FBI, even though Jones had previously told Danton he wouldn’t do the work. They had talked about this before the playoffs began. Apparently Jones turned down the hit, not because the $10,000 Danton had offered wasn’t enough. He said no, he claims, because if he had ever been in the business of killing, which he didn’t say he was, he certainly wasn’t in that business anymore.
Some of this is still so hard to believe and understand, even all these years after the fact. It is one thing to make the NHL, another to get to the playoffs, another to see your career so close to blossoming. And in the midst of an all-consuming experience, the most consumed hockey player anyone knew, Mike Danton, couldn’t get his mind off of David Frost.
Playoffs here, murder there. How could you make sense of any of it? Danton wanted the man he was closest to in the world gone from his life. Dead. And he was desperate enough to want it done right away.
It wasn’t a passing thought. He had been thinking about it for months. Plotting the death of Frost. And when Mike Danton called Ronnie Jones on Easter Sunday—and Jones knew what the call was about—the bouncer chose not to answer the phone. He allowed it to go to message. He wanted no part of what was to come.
Earlier, Danton had met with him at the bar and approached him about the possibility of “taking care” of Frost. He gave Jones a photograph of his agent. He cited a dispute over money he was having with Frost.
The telephone calls to Ronnie Jones seemed drastic enough, as the FBI transcripts taken from Jones’ phone reveal. They all came between Game 2 and Game 3 of the Blues-Sharks playoff series.
“It’s 12 o’clock Sunday afternoon,” Danton said on Jones’ phone. “Hope things went well with your boy. Let me give you my schedule for the next two days. Probably won’t be able to give you a shout later on today. Just wanted to let you know that he’s (Frost) there now at my place. My schedule Monday and Tuesday, we play home games. I leave the house at nine in the morning. I have pre-game skate at 10:30 both Monday and Tuesday, so he’ll be there like between nine and 12. So that would probably be the best time.
“You know the details about what we talked about before, and uh, ya know, you know, I’ll give you a call tomorrow morning. Leave your cellphone on so I can call you. Try to call you later today but I doubt I’ll be able to. But hope you can hook me up, man. Like I said, I’ll make it worth your while … Talk to you tomorrow morning. All right, buddy. You’ve got my address: 1800 South Brentwood Blvd. It’s off 46 or off 464. Apartment 1382, Villas of Brentwood. All right, buddy. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Leave your cell onso I can grab ya.”
Ronnie Jones never attempted to kill David Frost. Eventually, he turned the phone messages and other evidence over to the police.
The St. Louis Blues, having lost the first two games of the series against San Jose, won Game 3 at home. And in a very tight and competitive Game 4, Mike Danton scored the only NHL playoff goal of his life.
“He played very well in those two games in St. Louis,” said Larry Pleau, then-GM of the Blues. “He was a good player becoming a better player. He was very valuable to our team, an energy guy. Those kinds of guys can really help you. If you have the right kind of energy player, what a difference that can be for your team. He could have been a very valuable player for us, long term.”
When the Sharks returned to San Jose for Game 5, Mike Danton seemed as pesky off the ice as on. For whatever reason, he wouldn’t take no for an answer from Ronnie Jones, even though Jones had told him his services were not for hire. Danton phoned Jones again, still trying to close the deal that would remove David Frost from his life.
“Hey Ronnie, it’s Mike calling. It’s around seven o’clock our time. I’m in San Jose now.
“Just wondering what went on last night. Nothing happened. I was just wondering, if you know, what was going on. If you can’t, if you can’t do this, you know, let me know so I can try and find another way to do this because it’s getting real serious. He’s (Frost) got another couple people coming down now. He’s still at my place tonight and tomorrow night by himself, so I’ll try and get a hold of you, man.
“Listen, help me out any way you can, please. It’s a matter of life and death for me. All right, I’ll try to get in touch with you. Thanks, man. Bye.”