Walling: Danton takes major step, gives fans reason to cheer

Alex J. Walling
1/27/2010 10:40:51 PM
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Former NHLer and current Saint Mary's University student Mike Danton is now a part of the history of the old Halifax Forum, and this building has a lot of history.
I don't know if it's the oldest hockey arena in this country but as they say, it certainly is up there.
The forum was built in 1928 and has had a storied career with the halcyon days from boxing, with Blair Richardson in the 50s, to being the place where the first Canadian team won the American Hockey League title in the spring of 1972 when the Nova Scotia Vees came to town.
The Halifax Forum was supposed to fade off in 1978 when the Metro Centre was opened. That was not the case, and sporting events from junior hockey to rec hockey to mixed martial arts and, once in a blue moon, even a boxing match takes place.
The major hockey tenants these days include a Maritime Junior A hockey squad (the Halifax Lions) and the Saint Mary's Huskies hockey team.
Both draw poorly, with the Junior hockey team always appearing to wallow in red ink.
The big hockey team in this city is the Major Junior Hockey team, the Halifax Mooseheads, who were the very first Atlantic-based team in the "Q" and are by far the most successful hockey team ever in Halifax.
Sellouts and people waiting in line to buy tickets for Forum hockey games isn't something that happens often. In fact, the last time I can remember a full house at the Forum was around ten years ago, when due to a commitment at the Metro Centre, the Halifax Mooseheads had to play a playoff game at the old building.
Before that we are probably looking at the 70s, when the Vees played playoff hockey at the Forum against the likes of the Rochester Americans as coached by one Donald S. Cherry.
Mike Danton resumed his hockey career on Thursday night after years of inactivity. Now, Danton and his return to hockey didn't record a rare Forum sellout but it generated the biggest regular season hockey crowd in years, maybe decades.
"Look at the lineup," said Rod White, who regularly takes in college hockey and follows the Huskies and the Dal Tigers. "It seems that Mr. Danton is drawing a crowd.
"There were line-ups at the ticket office at noon time," one of the ushers told TSN.ca, "And that rarely happens for any support."
The game was at 7 pm and I arrived at 6:25 - that is after having to find a place to park, something that is rare for weekday regular season games in any sport.
Then, when I approached the Forum, the line-up was outside the door and around the corner of the street. By the time the game started the lineup was even longer.
"This is good for university hockey which is great hockey and underappreciated," said Frank MacDonald, a man around age 45.
"Danton is responsible for the biggest gate in years and I know he has lots of support and I hope he does well," said Amanda Boulegon, who was surprised by the line-up and crowd.
In a way, this column is probably the end of the Danton Trilogy. We've had the rumour turn to fact that the former NHLer who played 92 games would come to Saint Mary's.  Act II was a week ago when Danton met the media in a controlled conference. Only questions pertaining to his schooling at SMU and his possible university hockey career were allowed. And finally, on Wednesday night, his return to the ice rounded off an interesting week in the history of both Saint Mary's and Halifax.
Mike Danton played on the third line and, for his first game, looked liked a third line player.
"I don't know what all these people expect of him," says Harold MacKay. "He's only had a week or so of practice."

MacKay takes in lots of college games but his son Mark, 10, came because of the "hype".
The game was played against the Acadia Axemen and it was a few minutes before SMU coach Trevor Stienburg put Danton on the ice.
It was a quick shift - would you believe 26 seconds?
"We all knew that first shift would be a short one," Stienburg told me after the game. "It could have been longer but the whistle blew and I sent another line on."
The next shift was a little bit longer, nearly 45 seconds.  He had five shifts - none over 50 seconds - in the first period.
On most of those shifts he played his wing but on one shift he showed a burst of energy as he headed to the corner for the puck.
"Look at that," said Bob Lewis, a 29-year-old fan. "When he gets in condition we may see lots of that."
In the second period Danton picked up his intensity, threw some hits, went into corners and around the 11-minute mark in the third period, he converted a pass from linemate Cam Fergus and scored the only Huskies goal of the game.
The crowd responded with a standing ovation.
"That was nice, both the goal and the ovation," Danton told reporters after the game.
The Saint Mary's coach was very pleased with Danton's effort.
"Considering the short time he has had to get in shape and the good team we faced in the Axemen he played better than I expected," said Stienburg.
I must have spoken to 30 people and while they came to see the former NHL player, most of them were not really sure what to expect.
From "it's nice to see him get back in the game" to "it's nice that SMU is giving him a second chance" to "we want to see him succeed" to "we wanted to see him fail", the majority of fans I talked to hoped he would do well.
And, although in a losing cause, the goal he scored gave the crowd of nearly 4,000 - by far the biggest college hockey crowd in years - a great chance to cheer for Danton.
It's just a single game but considering where he has come from, it's a major step.
For TSN.ca, I'm Alex J. Walling.
Alex J. can be reasched via email: ajw@eastlink.ca

Mike Danton (Photo: The Canadian Press)


(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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