Summer is almost over for me. In fact, I am sitting in front of the campfire for the last time. How is it that something as simple as a campfire can be so mesmerizing? Burning wood flaking apart and turning into hot, scolding coals. I find myself adding wood every thirty minutes or so to feed my addiction for smores. I have less than four weeks before I head to the UK for my second professional season since being released from prison. I have not been this excited for a hockey season since my year in St. Louis. This time of year marks an end to campfires, late nights and perfectly created smores. It is time to get ready to play hockey and bleed blue for the Coventry Blaze.
The Coventry Blaze are based out of England about ninety minutes North of London. Coventry is known, primary, for being heavily bombed by the Germans in World War II. However, Coventry is also known to be the winningest franchise in the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL). They are lead by the winningest coach in the history of United Kingdom hockey. Coach Paul Thompson has set out to change the direction of the team from the last couple of seasons. He has brought in some extremely talented hockey players, bonafide tough guys, and myself. One thing is certain: we will be an entertaining bunch in 2012/2013.
In a league that has been fairly off the map when it comes to European hockey, the EIHL has stepped to the forefront and made a splash this off-season in signing some reputable players from well-respected leagues in North America and Europe. From what I have been told, this season is the most anticipated one yet. And the fans are some of the most involved that I have come across. They enjoy the chirps on twitter and get right involved in the off-season transactions. They seem to be a jolly bunch that are extremely passionate about a sport that North Americans did not even know existed in Britain.
Training has been good this summer. It always goes well. I put on a lot of muscle early on, eat proper and do more extensive cardio towards the end. The muscle leans out and body fat decreases. When hockey players are strong and lean, they become dangerous. That is what I was hoping to accomplish this off-season. I am a small guy (5’9” and 195lbs.) that needs to play big, so I need all the muscle I can get. One muscle that has been increasingly growing this off-season is my heart.
Exactly three weeks away now from the birth of my first child – Tanner. Man, I want this little bugger to get here so bad that it hurts. He is due to enter this world on August 19th and I have to leaveAugust 24th. That is going to suck bigtime. I am already so attached to this little guy. I get to spend five days with him and then I have to leave. However, his imminent arrival has coincided with a stronger heart. I am going to use that strength while I am away until I see him again.
Heading overseas for the second year in a row has me thinking about something else too. Don’t get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoy the experience of playing hockey in Europe. The people and culture are experiences of a lifetime in their own rite. However, that dream of playing in the NHL seems to be getting dimmer as each season passes. I am running out of years and options. I have said it before and I will say it again – if I cannot play in the NHL, I want it to be because I am not good enough, not because I am not allowed in the United States.
Michael Vick was a pro bowl quarterback that now holds the all-time career quarterback rushing record. Then, Michael Vick was convicted on federal dog fighting charges and served 21 months in prison before being released. Michael Vick lied about the amount of his involvement in the dog fighting ring while he funded this operation where dogs were electrocuted and hanged for poor performances. The Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League (NFL) gave Michael Vick a second chance at his football career and signed him to a six year deal worth $100 million. Michael Vick played in the NFL. Michael Vick committed a crime by killing dogs. Michael Vick went to prison for 21 months. Michael Vick is now playing in the NFL again.
Dany Heatley was an NHL All-Star. He scored more goals in two years than I had games played. He was an unbelievably gifted hockey player for the Atlanta Thrashers. Then, Dany Heatley got into his Ferrari, with a teammate – Dan Snyder, after having a few drinks. While speeding, Dany Heatley smashed his car into a brick pilar and killed his teammate and good friend (RIP Dan Snyder). Dany Heatley was arrested for first degree vehicular homicide, but did not go to prison. Instead, he was sentenced to three years of probation for a reduced charge and was allowed to continue his career in the NHL. Dany Heatley played in the NHL. Dany Heatley committed a crime by killing his teammate and good friend while drinking and driving. Dany Heatley did not go to prison. Dany Heatley is still playing in the NHL.
Mike Danton was an energy player in the NHL. He was a third and fourth liner that coach Joel Quenneville used in all situations at point or another during that season. Mike Danton was a sparkplug that would do anything for his teammates. Mike Danton had skills, but for him to make a career in the NHL he had to start off as a grinder. He was okay with that. He was living his dream. Then, Mike Danton got arrested for conspiracy to commit murder for hire and was sentenced to 90 months in prison. Mike Danton served 65 months in prison before being released on full parole. Mike Danton played in the NHL. Mike Danton committed a crime by wanting someone to be killed. Mike Danton went to prison. Mike Danton is not playing in the NHL right now … or in the foreseeable future.
Now, I am sure a lot of different arguments can be made right now. Also, I am sure that there is a plethora of comments that must be flowing through your heads. Believe me, I have heard them all. “Danton was a third liner at best … he is past his prime.” “Why should he get another shot at a career? He already fucked up his first time.” “He’s too old now anyways. He doesn’t have it anymore.” Well, that is exactly why so many people in society are depressed and do not receive second chances in their lives. How am I going to succeed when everyone is chopping me off at the knees? I think I have done a pretty good fucking job so far.
Let me try to answer some of your questions or comments. For arguments sake, how many players in the NHL are past their prime? Yet, they play year after year without missing a beat. And as best as I can remember, there are thirty NHL teams that have the needs for third and fourth liners. If Dany Heatley and Michael Vick can get second chances, why can’t I? Vick had involvement in killing dogs and Heatley killed a teammate. Who did I kill? I spent more time in jail for not killing than both Vick and Heatley combined for killing. Where is the justice in that?
As a society, we allow child molesters that have served two years in prison for multiple counts of rape to move into our neighbourhoods and watch our children walk around in the summertime with their bathing suits on. However, I am not allowed to enter the United States to play hockey after serving five-and-a-half years in prison for not killing anyone. What is wrong with our justice system? And I am not just talking about Canada’s justice system. It is the United States that will not grant me access into their country.
I know that I seem to be whining in this blog entry. However, I am a little frustrated and confused with how the world works. I am not picking on Michael Vick or Dany Heatley. I have great respect for both athletes. I am extremely thrilled at how Vick has turned his life around and is excelling at a sport that he loves. As for Heatley, I was playing for the Blues in Heatley’s first game back after his accident. I was fortunate and proud to be a part of that. All I am asking for is my opportunity. It is not even guaranteed that I will receive my UK entry visa for this season. What would I do if the decision for me to enter the UK were to be denied by the border agency? Where would I play? How would I support my family? And what type of message would that send to other people that are desperate for second chances in their own lives? It would give them no hope.
Is sports not entertainment? Do we not all get fuzzy feelings about the Cinderella teams that burst hope and win championships? Do we not feel great for the guys that never got drafted and go on to excel in their respective sports? Do we not pull for the Josh Hamilton’s that have gone through hardships and have come out on top? If so, then how can you not be chanting for my opportunity? True, I am no Josh Hamilton, Michael Vick, or Dany Heatley. I am Mike Danton though and I have my own story. And someday soon, I am going to have to share my story with Tanner. When we talk about my NHL career, and he asks me why I don’t play there anymore, I don’t want to tell him that it is because I am not allowed in the country. If I never play in the NHL again, I want to be able to tell him that I am not good enough. I can live with that. Give me the opportunity to resume my pro career in North America just like all the others have. After all, if Vick’s and Heatley’s careers were not taken from them, why was mine?