STOCKHOLM (AP) — Former NHL player Mike Danton was sent to prison for plotting to take a life. In his return to professional hockey, the skills he learned in jail may well have saved one.
Danton, who served a five-year jail term for conspiracy to commit murder, was playing in his first game with Swedish third-division club Ore on Sunday when his linemate Marcus Bengtsson hit his head on the ice after a hard hit and started convulsing.
Using the first-aid training he received in prison, Danton dropped to the ice as well, waited for Bengtsson's jaw to unclench and then shoved his hand into his teammate's mouth to stop him from choking on his own tongue.
Danton was convicted in a failed murder-for-hire plot in 2004, and wrote on his blog that "one of the luxuries" of his jail stint was the chance to become a certified first aid responder.
"I have seen seizures before. In prison, druggies would come in off the streets and have withdrawals," he wrote. "So, when the convulsions did not (stop) after a couple of minutes, I knew something was wrong."
After Danton stopped the choking, other teammates helped him put the 21-year-old Bengtsson on his side before an ambulance arrived and took him to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with a concussion and kept overnight.
"There have been so many tragic injuries in hockey lately and this incident was very close to being another," Danton wrote. "These types of scenarios get you asking yourself questions and realizing the important things in life — like friends."
The incident happened about six minutes into the third period of Ore's opening game against Soderhamn-Ljusne. The game resumed, and Ore won 4-3.
Bengtsson told Tuesday's edition of local newspaper Dalarnas Tidning that the only thing he can remember from the incident is feeling his leg starting to shake before passing out — and then seeing Danton and other teammates standing over him when he woke up.
"I can't describe how thankful I am to Mike and all the others who helped me," Bengtsson said. "It could have been a lot worse."
Danton said he realized quickly that Bengtsson was in danger of choking on his tongue.
"With several players and other help surrounding (Bengtsson) on the ice, his face went from normal tone to Christmas red to snow white," he wrote. "In that process, he was on his back and his jaw became locked while bubbles of blood began to spew between his teeth. Only one thing came to mind. His tongue, I thought."
Danton said he had to wait several minutes for Bengtsson's mouth to open before he managed to get his fingers inside "and clawed at his tongue."
When the jaw started to clamp down on his fingers again seconds later "I ripped them out before I lost them," he wrote.
Danton was sentenced to 7½ years in prison after pleading guilty in a plot that prosecutors said targeted David Frost, Danton's former junior coach who went on to become his mentor and agent. However, he was released on parole in 2009 after admitting that the intended target had actually been his father, Steve Jefferson.
Danton was a fifth-round pick by New Jersey in 2000 and played 87 career NHL games for the Devils and St. Louis. He was arrested while a member of the Blues in 2004 following a playoff game at San Jose.
In July, he announced his move to Ore after spending the past two seasons with the Saint Mary's Huskies in Canadian university hockey.
Ore is based in the small village of Furudal, around 185 miles north of Stockholm. The team plays in the 32-year-old Furudals Hockeycenter, which has a capacity of 796 people.