NEWS
09/21/2011 05:01 EDT | Updated 11/21/2011 05:12 EST

Mike Danton has a different take on hockey since five years in prison

Mike Danton says he cried for a good 20 minutes after a Swedish teammate survived a scare on the ice.

The former NHL player sees life differently after spending five years behind bars.

"I used to take hockey for granted, as well as a lot of things for granted," Danton told The Canadian Press on Wednesday. "After I tried to commit suicide (he tried to hang himself in his cell) and started turning my life around, I promised myself I wouldn't take the little things for granted anymore. Because if it wasn't for family and friends and morals and principles and things of that nature, I wouldn't be able to play hockey.

"Prison really changed the way that I think."

The Brampton, Ont., native, who spent five years in prison for conspiracy to commit murder, made headlines earlier this week for rushing to the aid of teammate Marcus Bengtsson — also Danton's best friend on the squad — during a game with his Swedish team IFK Ore.

Danton signed with the squad in the summer after his parole ended, lifting restrictions on his travel.

The team, with a home rink that seats 796, is a long way from the bright lights and big contracts of the NHL. But it's also a world away from confinement. And the 30-year-old, speaking from the team bus after a 14-5 rout of Lindlovens IF (Danton had a goal and an assist), said he's learned to love and appreciate the game's "little things."

"The friendships that you make, the camaraderie in the dressing room at practice, the joking around with the guys that you spend your time with every day — those are the best things about hockey," Danton said. "It's not scoring goals and even winning championships, it's the quality time you get to spend with 20, 25 guys that you really care about."

Danton obtained a first aid certificate in prison and put it to good use Sunday when Bengtsson collapsed and started convulsing after taking a hard hit. Danton said Bengtsson is fine — he was diagnosed with a concussion and Danton put his teammate on a train home to visit his family Wednesday.

But the close call left him shaken.

"A situation like that, I don't know, maybe we were 10 seconds away, maybe 10 minutes away from Marcus not being there anymore," Danton said. "When he came to I started asking him questions and he started talking to me like normal. I just started crying, I couldn't help myself, even when I went into the dressing room when I talked to the guys. It was just that close that one of my friends almost wasn't there anymore."

Danton admitted he'd love to one day lace up his skates in the NHL again.

"I'm pretty sure that I would get some opportunities to head to training camps, in fact, I know I would," he said.

But he added he's happy with IFK Ore, which plays in what is essentially Sweden's third division, with top salaries averaging about $3,000. It's based in Furudal, a tiny town that's a four-hour drive west of Stockholm and boasts a population of about 450.

"I have more Facebook friends than the town's population," Danton said, laughing. "I am in the sticks. There is nothing but woods and water around me. But it's great. It's just the type of town where you're walking down the road, and everyone waves at you, everyone knows everybody there. They look out for everyone. It's a really nice place."

Danton has no doubt everyone knows him, and all about his troubled past.

"The only thing I've understood is I've been called a 'midget' (in Swedish) by one of the opposing teams," he said, laughing. "I've had a couple players say some things to me, but I've been used to that since I’ve been out of jail. When I get a penalty, the opposing crowd cheers, just little things like that. That's what I expected. It's quite entertaining, it's OK."

The fifth-round pick by New Jersey in 2000 played in 87 career NHL games for the Devils and St. Louis. But in 2004, he was arrested following a playoff game in San Jose, Calif., and convicted in a murder-for-hire plot.

U.S. prosecutors said Danton's intended target was David Frost, a controversial figure who was his agent at the time. However, Danton suggested to the National Parole Board in 2009 that the target was his father, with whom he has been estranged.

Danton played for Saint Mary's University for two years after being released from prison, and helped the Huskies claim their first Canadian university title. He's about halfway toward his degree, a double major in psychology and criminology, and is taking a full-course load through correspondence from Saint Mary's. He's maintained a straight A average throughout.

"I find it fairly easy this time around, school," he said. "I'm a little bit more mature, take things a bit more seriously, and I'm doing well, I enjoy learning."

He wants to play hockey as long as he can, but sees himself pursuing a career in some facet of sports.

"Whether it's coaching players or coaching athletes to make better decisions in their lives, who knows?" he said.

The player also writes a blog for DT, the largest local newspaper in the region of Dalarna where IFK Ore is located.

"I guess ever since I went to prison, I had some practice writing letters and that. I've always been book smart, it's been my street smarts that have kicked me around a little bit," he said.

He's also writing a book, which he began writing in prison.

"I think that will be pretty interesting," he said. "But I won't conclude that until after my hockey career, I don't want any distractions or anything like that."