7 Hockey Players with Criminal Pasts

Professional hockey players can be bruising and punishing on the ice. When they’re caught, the worst thing that can happen is some time spent in the penalty box, a fine, or some unpaid time off. When these brawny rule breakers step off the ice and break the law, their boundary-pushing actions have a lot more consequences. While NHL players are better known for their partying ways than committing serious crimes, a number have spent some quality time behind bars and were hit with eye-watering fines.

Here are seven instances where professional hockey players took their enforcing ways a little too far and ended up with a criminal record.

#1. Mike Danton

A native of Brampton, Ontario, Canada, Mike Danton started playing junior hockey in 1996 with the Quinte Hawks of the Metro Junior A Hockey League. He spent a number of successful years playing for teams like the Sarnia Sting and St. Michael’s Majors. Danton was the assistant captain of the 2000 Barrie Colts team, which went on to win the Ontario Hockey League Championship. That same year, Danton was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the 2000 NHL draft.

Mike Danton Appears In Federal Court

Mike Danton, Clinton County Booking Photograph; Photo: Bill Greenblatt/Getty Images)

Between 2000 and 2003, Danton played 19 games with the New Jersey Devils where he racked up two goals and spent 35 minutes in the penalty box. He was actually suspended by the Devils twice for disciplinary reasons, sitting out the entire 2001-02 season. While playing for the Devils, he became estranged from his family and changed his last name from Jefferson to Danton.

Around this time, Danton was at odds with Lou Lamoriello, the Devils’ general manager, which led to him being traded to the St. Louis Blues. It was in St. Louis that Danton played his first full year in the NHL; he played 68 games, had seven goals and five assists, and racked up 141 penalty minutes.

 Mike Danton

Mike Danton; Photo: Dave Sandford/Getty Images

Despite a successful career in the NHL and bright future, this also ended up being his last year in the NHL. On April 16, 2004, two days after the St. Louis Blues were eliminated from the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Danton, who was then just 23, was charged with conspiracy to commit murder.

You only need one word to describe Danton’s case: bizarre.

During his time in St. Louis, Danton was accused of trying on three occasions to hire hitmen to murder his agent, David Frost. Danton never denied trying to hire a hitman, but he said the intended target was his father, not Frost.

The first hitman he tried to hire was a bouncer at a strip club. The second hitman ended up being a police dispatcher, who in turn tipped off the FBI. Danton apparently didn’t say exactly who the target was, but he mentioned when the intended target would be at his home.

It didn’t matter. On April 16, 2004, Danton was arrested. Authorities alleged that he and Frost had a dispute over Danton’s purported alcohol use and promiscuity. Others speculated at the time that Danton wanted to silence a friend who threatened to expose him as a homosexual. Frost, meanwhile, said Danton was suffering from depression and other mental health issues.

Mike Danton's Family

Danton’s brother Tom Jefferson, mother Susan Jefferson, and aunt Linda Gebe Leaving Court; Photo: Bill Greenblatt/Getty Images

At the time, Frost denied that the arrest had anything to do with Danton’s sexuality. “We’re going to get him some help, some treatment,” he said in 2004. “He’s had some issues from his younger years that he needs to deal with.”

A November 2005 documentary aired on CBC looked at the friendship Danton had with Frost. The documentary alleged that Frost had a very controlling relationship with Danton. His parents even said that Frost cultivated and maintained a Svengali-like grasp on Danton.

The documentary focuses on a taped phone conversation that Danton had with Frost shortly after being arrested. At the end of the conversation, Frost asked Danton, “OK, you love me?” Danton replied, “Yes.” To which Frost demanded, “Say it!” Danton then answered, “I love you.”

David Frost

David Frost; Photo: www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeeY2OJ5wOo

On July 16, Danton pleaded guilty to conspiring to have Frost murdered, and on November 8, 2004, he was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison. He was transferred from a prison in the U.S. to a facility near Kingston, Ontario, in March 2009. There, he was eligible for parole and released after serving five years.

During the parole hearing, Danton said Frost was the not the intended victim, that there had been a mix-up. His father was the one who was supposed to die.

Danton said he became paranoid and believed someone was going to his apartment to kill him. He blamed the paranoia partly on his use of stimulants and sleeping pills.

Danton said he grew up in a dysfunctional home, and his relationship with his parents became so strained that he had to change his middle and last names. At 11, Frost became his coach; he clung to the man as a father figure. Danton claimed that Frost has been unfairly portrayed in the media.

 Since being released from prison, Danton has turned his life around. He played professional hockey in Europe, earned a degree in criminology and psychology from Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and is the proud father of a son.

Also Read: 7 Famous American Crimes That Forever Changed the Country’s History

#2. Steve Durbano

Steve Durbano is a hockey legend. Born December 12, 1951 in Toronto, Ontario, he was drafted No. 13 in the first round of the 1971 NHL Amateur Draft. Over the next eight seasons, Durbano played for four different NHL teams: the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Kansas City Scouts, and Colorado Rockies.

Steve Durbano

Steve Durbano; Photo: www.facebook.com/groups/149458058416346

During his stint in the NHL, Durbano played 220 games, where he had 13 goals and 60 assists. What he is most known for was the amount of time he spent in the penalty box: a whopping 1,127 minutes, almost 19 hours in total, or five minutes per game. The journeyman defenseman was called “Demolition Durby” and “Mental Case Durbano.”

Durbano’s toughness was legendary, both on and off the ice. He was an alcoholic and known for getting into barroom brawls wherever he went. Had he only gotten into bar fights, it might not have been too bad.

In 1981, after returning from a trip to South America, authorities at the Toronto airport found 474 grams of cocaine hidden in the false heels of his shoes. In 1983, he was sentenced to seven years for drug trafficking. He served 28 months and later told a newspaper that he lied at trial, and that drug use was widespread in the NHL.

In 1998, Durbano was found guilty of running a prostitution ring and spent three months in jail. At the time, he was living on welfare and a $300.00-per-month hockey pension. He offered an undercover police officer a job at an escort service he was running out of a hotel room in Welland, Ontario.

Steve Durbano

Steve Durbano; Photo: www.facebook.com/KansasCityScoutsTheHockeyChronicle

After being released from prison in June 1998, Durbano tried to turn his life around. He moved to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, and worked as a carpet and furniture cleaner and a salesman for Electrolux, a carpet-cleaning company.

He gave up cocaine but continued to drink. Durbano died on November 16, 2002 of liver failure. He was just 50.

#3. Bob Probert

Bob Probert was considered to be one of the best fighters in the NHL, but he kept his brawls on the ice. After playing a number of years for teams in the Ontario Hockey League, like the Brantford Alexanders, Hamilton Steelhawks, and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Probert was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the fourth round of the 1983 NHL Draft.

Over his 16-year career, Probert played for just two teams: the Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks. He played 935 games, where he had 163 goals, 221 assists, and an impressive 3,300 penalty minutes.

Bob Probert

Bob Probert; Photo: Glenn Cratty/Allsport/Getty Images

Protecting fellow teammates like Detroit captain Steve Yzerman was one of the big reasons why Probert spent so much time in the penalty box. He got into many memorable on-ice fights over the years, including battles with Bob McGill, Tie Domi, Todd Ewen, and a February 1994 fight with Marty McSorley, which lasted nearly 100 seconds.

Probert has had some well-publicized run-ins with the law, most notably in March 1989, when he was arrested for cocaine possession while crossing the Detroit-Windsor border. During a strip search, customs agents on the U.S. side of the tunnel border crossing found 14.2 grams of cocaine hidden in Probert’s underwear. He spent three months in a federal prison in Minnesota and was suspended from the NHL.

When Probert retired after the 2001-02 season, having played for Chicago, he had been in 231 bouts and was ranked fourth on the list of penalized players with 3,300 penalty minutes.

The early days of retirement were not without some hiccups. In June 2004, he was Tasered by police in Delray Beach, Florida and charged with battery, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. He was acquitted by a jury.

In July 2005, police were called to Probert’s home in Lakeshore, Ontario. Nine officers showed up; eight were wearing black gloves, ready for battle. Probert was charged with assaulting police and intent to resist arrest. But surveillance footage of the incident showed that Probert was not aggressive with police.

The charges were withdrawn. Probert’s lawyer said he might have a good civil case but Probert said, “That’s my community and I don’t want them angry with me.”

In June 2006, Probert was picked up by police on suspicion of public intoxication when he was found asleep on a sidewalk. During a routine search, police found half a gram of cocaine in his pocket. He was charged with possession, but his lawyer noted that Probert’s fingerprints weren’t on the packet. Later, two individuals who were drinking with Probert that night admitted that they stuffed the packet of cocaine in his pocket after he passed out and planned to come back for it. The charge against Probert was dismissed.

On the afternoon of July 5, 2010, Bob Probert died after collapsing while on a boat on Lake St. Clair near Windsor, Ontario. He was boating with his children, father-in-law, and mother-in-law when he developed severe chest pains.

#4. Kevin Stevens

Kevin Stevens was the life of the party. And unfortunately, that led to his downfall.

Stevens was born on April 15, 1965 in Brockton, Massachusetts and was a gifted athlete. In high school, he played hockey and baseball, and he was invited to try out for the Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays. He decided hockey was his sport of choice.

 

Kevin Stevens

Kevin Stevens; Photo: Robert Laberge/Getty Images

 

Stevens was given a full-ride scholarship to play hockey for Boston College. Over the four seasons he played there, Stevens saw action in 158 games, where he scored 71 goals, had 99 assists, and racked up 182 penalty minutes.

He was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the sixth round of the 1983 NHL Draft. Several months later, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team he played with for eight years. Along with Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, Stevens won the Stanley Cup twice during their back-to-back victories in 1990-91 and 1991-92.

The following year, though, Stevens suffered a major setback. During a game against the New York Islanders, Steven hit his face on the ice, shattering most of the bones in his face. Doctors repaired them with metal plates.

His production started to decline after that.

During the 1999-00 season, while playing for the Rangers, Stevens, then 34, struggled both on and off the ice. He only played 38 games that season. Off the ice, after a game against the St. Louis Blues, he was caught in a motel in East St. Louis with a prostitute and crack cocaine.

He was indicted on a single Class IV felony count of possession of a controlled substance. He spent two months receiving outpatient treatment at a rehabilitation center in Danbury, under the supervision of the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program.

He returned to the NHL and played three more seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In addition to the Penguins, over his 17-year career, Stevens played for the Los Angeles Kings, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, and Philadelphia Flyers. He ended his career with 874 games, having notched 329 goals, 397 assists, and 1,470 penalty minutes.

After retiring, Stevens worked as a talent scout for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but he left the position in 2011 to spend more time with his family. In June 2015, his son, Luke Stevens was drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes. He played college hockey at Yale University for the 2016-2017 season.

In May 2016, Kevin Stevens, 51, was charged with conspiring to sell oxycodone along with another man, Christopher Alonardo.

#5. Craig MacTavish

Craig MacTavish is proof that you can have a long career in the NHL, even after spending a year in jail for vehicular homicide.

MacTavish was born in London, Ontario, in 1958. He played hockey for two years in the NCAA with the University of Lowell Chiefs. He was drafted by the Boston Bruins in the 1978 NHL Draft. He played his first full year for the Bruins in the 1982-83 season.

 

Craig MacTavish

Craig MacTavish; Photo: Ian Tomlinson/Allsport/Getty Images

 

He only played for Boston for two years, though. He was forced to sit out the 1984-85 season because he was behind bars.

On January 25, 1984, MacTavish, then 27, was driving home after a Boston Bruins practice. He was drunk. MacTavish rear-ended a car driven by Kim Radley, 26; her car went careening over a snowbank and landed on its side on top of two other vehicles. Radley, an antiques dealer who had been married for seven years, never regained consciousness; she died four days later from head injuries.

MacTavish pleaded innocent to vehicular manslaughter charges, but he later changed his plea to guilty and was sentenced to one year in jail.

After leaving jail, MacTavish joined the Edmonton Oilers just in time to be part of the team’s dynasty years in the mid-1980s. While with the Oilers, MacTavish won three Stanley Cups (1986-87, 1987-88, 1989-90). He won one more Stanley Cup with the New York Islanders in 1993-94.

MacTavish retired from the NHL after the 1996-97 season with the St. Louis Blues. Over his illustrious career, MacTavish played in 1,093 games and had 213 goals, 267 assists, and 891 penalty minutes.

Craig MacTavish

Craig MacTavish; Photo: Ian Tomlinson/Stringer

After leaving the NHL as a player, he returned as an assistant coach with the New York Rangers. He went on to coach the Edmonton Oilers for a number of years. After that, he was an announcer for TSN before becoming general manager of the Oilers, a job he held until 2013.

Also Read: 9 Assassinations That Rocked the World

#6. Slava Voynov

Vyacheslav “Slava” Voynov had one of the most promising careers in the NHL. But it was derailed by a plea deal and probation that came as a result of a domestic violence charge.

Born January 15, 1990, in Chelyabinsk, a city in west-central Russia, he began his professional hockey career playing for the Traktor Chelyabinsk in 2006-07 and 2007-08. In the 2008 NHL Draft, Voynov was picked up by the Los Angeles Kings.

 

 Slava Voynov

Slava Voynov; Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

He spent the next four years playing for the Kings’ minor league team, the Manchester Monarchs, in the American Hockey League. In his rookie season with the Monarchs, Voynov recorded eight goals and 15 assists. In the third year, he improved to 15 goals and 36 assists.

For the 2011-12 season, Voynov suited up for his rookie year with the Los Angeles Kings. He played 54 games and recorded eight goals and 12 assists. In the following season, he racked up six goals and 19 assists, and in the 2013-14 season, he had four goals and 30 assists. It was the last time Voynov played a full season in the NHL.

On October 19, 2014, Redondo Beach police responded to a call. When police arrived at Voynov’s house, there seemed to be blood everywhere in the master bedroom: around the bed, in the shape of a handprint on the wood floor, on the bedding, and in a trail leading to the bathroom.

Marta Varlamova, Voynov’s wife, told officers that the couple had started fighting earlier that night at an unofficial Los Angeles Kings Halloween party. While arguing at the party, Voynov reportedly removed his wife’s costume glasses, stepped on them, and then punched her in the left jaw.

The fight continued when they got home. Varlamova said the Los Angeles King defenseman choked, hit, and kicked her. When she tried to get up, she claimed Voynov pushed her into the corner of a flat-screen television in their bedroom.

“My blood, all over bedroom and bathroom,” Varlamova said in a recording. “And it’s not first time.”

“He’s very aggressive every time,” she added.

She required eight stitches to close up a cut over her eye.

In December 2014, a judge ruled that there was enough evidence against Voynov for him to stand trial on a charge of felony domestic violence. He pleaded not guilty.

He had a very, very slight change of heart later on. In July 2015, Voynov accepted a plea deal that reduced his charge from a felony to a misdemeanor. Prosecutors took what they could after his wife refused to testify. Varlamova wrote a letter to prosecutors saying her injuries were accidental.

Voynov was sentenced by the Los Angeles County Superior Court to 90 days in jail and three years of probation for corporal injury to a spouse.

Slava Voynov

Slava Voynov at the Winter Olympics; Photo: www.facebook.com/SportsRoadhouseInc

After his arrest, the two-time Stanley Cup champ was indefinitely suspended by the NHL. He missed the final 76 games of the 2014-15 season. The Kings also terminated his six-year, $25.0-million contract.

Voynov continues to play professional hockey, just not in the NHL. Since being booted from the NHL, Voynov has played for SKA St. Petersburg in the Kontinental Hockey League. He also played for the Olympic athletes from Russia in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

#7. Todd Bertuzzi

Not all criminal charges were a result of incidents that happened off the ice. While playing for the Vancouver Canucks, Todd Bertuzzi cold clocked Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore and landed on his head on March 8, 2004 after Moore had checked Canucks captain Markus Naslund.

A native of Sudbury, Ontario, Bertuzzi played junior hockey for the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League for four years.

 

Todd Bertuzzi

Todd Bertuzzi; Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Bertuzzi was drafted by the New York Islanders in the first round of the 1993 NHL Draft. He played his rookie season with the Islanders in 1995-96, and after two-and-a-half seasons, he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks. His eight years in Vancouver will be remembered as his most successful. It is also where he landed the vicious hit on Steve Moore, an assault that left Bertuzzi in legal hot water.

On March 8, 2004, the Colorado Avalanche were in town to play the Vancouver Canucks. For Vancouver fans, it was a highly anticipated rematch. Back on February 16, 2004, Moore had laid into Canucks captain Markus Naslund with a hard hit. Naslund suffered from a minor concussion and chipped a bone in his elbow. The hit was deemed legal and no penalty was called. The Canucks and their fans, though, were in an uproar.

On March 8, it was time for revenge.

Late in the third period, Colorado was up 8-2; Moore hadn’t had a shift in a while, so no one could seek revenge for the hit on Naslund. When he finally hit the ice, Sean Pronger of the Canucks pushed Moore, but then skated off.

Bertuzzi then kept close tabs on Moore, grabbing him by the back of his jersey. Moore was trying to skate away, but before he could escape, Bertuzzi unleashed a fierce sucker-punch to the back of his head. Moore dropped to the ice with Bertuzzi and other players piled on top of him.

Moore, who was in his rookie season, was taken off the ice with three broken vertebrae. He never played again.

Bertuzzi was suspended for the rest of the season, which amounted to 13 games. He also missed seven playoff games. The Canucks were also fined $250,000. Bertuzzi was eventually charged with criminal assault causing bodily harm.

He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year probation and 80 hours of community service. Because Bertuzzi successfully completed his one year of probation, he never officially received a criminal record.

That didn’t mean he was in the clear. Moore sued Bertuzzi and the Vancouver Canucks, seeking $68.0 million in damages: $38.0 million in lost hockey wages as well as punitive and compensatory damages, plus $30.0 million for lost wages from his post-hockey career.

Moore graduated from Harvard University but said his post-concussion syndrome prevented him from getting work that was equal to what his Ivy League education would have afforded him.

In 2014, a full 10 years after the attack, Moore reached an undisclosed settlement in the Bertuzzi case.

After Vancouver, Todd Bertuzzi went on to play in the NHL for an additional nine years, playing for the Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Anaheim Ducks, and Calgary Flames. He retired from the NHL after playing for Detroit in the 2013-14 season.

Todd & Tag Bertuzzi

Todd & Tag Bertuzzi; Photo: www.facebook.com/Josie-J-Photography-Book

In 2017, Todd Bertuzzi’s son, Tag,was drafted second overall into the OHL by the Guelph Storm, the same team his father and cousin Tyler had played for.


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