Hockey fans willl remember the story of David Frost. Mike Danton used to be called Mike Jefferson, as mentioned in the above story.
Wednesday, March 3, 1999
FROST AT THE CENTRE OF JUNIOR HOCKEY STORM
BY STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun
The many descriptions of David Frost offer a contradictory, confusing and controversial profile of the most whispered-about and mistrusted man in Ontario hockey.
Cult figure. Intelligent. Cunning. Nurturing.
Manipulative. Ambitious. Controlling.
Exactly who is David Frost, this man behind the scenes? Why are so many people talking about him, and yet why are so few willing to be interviewed about him?
"I don't care what the outside perception of me is," Frost said in a meandering two-hour interview at his Brampton home. "I don't care what others think. I don't care who I piss off or who I step on. I don't believe in kissing ass. I didn't come into this business to make friends.
"I've heard the brainwash stuff, that I brainwash players. Maybe I have brainwashed them. You know how crazy that is? If I was that smart, I would brainwash 20 of them and we would go win the Stanley Cup. Brainwashing? When I hear that cult stuff, it makes me crazy."
The close connection between the 32-year-old Frost and four teenaged Ontario Hockey League players is the rage of arena talk inside the secretive world of junior hockey.
Frost is a former coach with a history of both success and trouble. Banned by the OHA and suspended by the MTHL, Frost now works independently in player development, referring clients to well-known agent Mike Gillis.
But it is Frost's relationship with Sheldon Keefe, Mike Jefferson, Ryan Barnes and Shawn Cation -- all players with the Barrie Colts -- that has caused so much consternation in hockey circles. Responsible for the development of these four junior clients, Frost acts as part-coach, part-agent, part-parent -- roles he plays zealously.
"The guy is a lunatic," said Rob Ciccarelli, owner of the Sarnia Sting, who met Frost when Jefferson played for his team. "What worried me is he had a cult-like attraction for the player. I have never in my history seen anything like that. The kid totally did everything that Frost said. It was shocking.
"It got to a point where Jefferson would look up during games and take hand signals from Frost. During games, he was always looking up in the stands. It became a terrible situation. We didn't want to trade him, but we decided the best thing to do was part company."
"Hand signals?" Frost said in response. "I've heard that before. If I can coach from the crowd using hand signals I should be coaching third base for the Blue Jays."
That was only part of the Jefferson story while in Sarnia.
Jefferson was billeted in the home of Bonnie Gardner, a respected Sarnia bank manager. Over time, Gardner became concerned about the controlling nature of Frost's relationship with Jefferson. She informed Sting management of her concerns. The team then passed on the concerns to OHL commissioner David Branch, and an investigation was launched.
"There were concerns the behaviour was not normal," Branch said. "Sarnia had put me on notice of some concerns they had about Frost (not of a sexual nature). We looked into them. What evolved were demands for Jefferson to be transferred out of Sarnia. It seemed to be in everyone's best interest."
In the OHL investigation, Jefferson apparently was asked to write a letter to the league about his Sarnia situation. When Bonnie Gardner asked to see the letter, a league representative told her: "You don't want to see what he wrote. It will upset you."
"Mike's a nice kid, but he changed when Frost was around," Gardner said. "To me, Frost's a scary person. I don't like him. I get a bad feeling about him. I'm not afraid of him like a lot of people are. I've been doing this for a lot of years and I've never seen a situation like that before."
Frost claims there was no investigation into the Jefferson situation in Sarnia and claims no letter was written to the league.
"Mike Jefferson wanted out of Sarnia," Frost said. "We took the rap as the bad guys because we're his agents. You protect your player and you take the grief. That's what agents do."
"Dave Frost," said Steve Jefferson, Mike's father, "is the best thing to ever happen to my kid."
A number of hockey people interviewed by The Toronto Sun expressed concern over Frost's controlling ways. Most of them, however, refused to discuss the matter for attribution. "He has power over these kids," said one NHL scout, who requested anonymity. "Everybody knows about it and everybody is talking about it behind the scenes but nobody seems to want to do anything about it."
Said Frost, who is married with a young child: "I've heard it said I'm controlling these kids. But I won't apologize for it. If having too much influence means my players go to school, they maintain 75-plus averages, they work hard in games, they don't stay out at night, they never break curfew -- if that means too much influence, then I'm guilty.
"I know I'm a rebel and an intimidating person. People don't like that. They say, 'Dave, you can't act like that.' But you know something? With all that's said about me, I've never had one person say something to my face."
Trouble has followed David Frost almost everywhere he has been in hockey.
After the 1993-94 season, the Ontario Hockey Association was prepared to suspend the entire Brampton junior franchise for what president Brent Ladds describes as "incredibly undisciplined and unruly play." The head coach
was Frost. The team was spared suspension and put on probation only because it told the league that Frost would not return as coach.
"To this day, David Frost is persona non grata in the OHA," Ladds said. "If he ever wanted to coach in our league again, he would have to present himself before the board."
Frost even admits to having initiated a brawl prior to a Brampton-Milton playoff game
. "The game before they had shot pucks in our end during the warmup. I told our guys, if one puck comes in our end, kick the s--t out of them. We did that."
He was smiling as he retold the story.
One season later, in 1995-96, Frost was suspended indefinitely by the Metropolitan Toronto Hockey League, now known as the Greater Toronto Hockey League. In a letter dated Sept. 26, 1996, Frost was informed of his suspension "for being party to the falsification of documents." He was coaching the Toronto Red Wings at the time. Allegedly, the signature of Red Wings general manager Terry Weir was forged on player-release forms. The league found Frost guilty by association.
"I told my players early on that at the end of the season, I was going to release all of them, that they could go wherever they wanted," Frost said. "We won the bantam all-Ontario championships that year, and I followed through with what I said. I was told I didn't have the authority to (release the players).
"I didn't forge anyone's name on the release. I just wrote my name."
Frost contends he has filed a lawsuit against GTHL president John Gardner for comments made about him in a Toronto Star article last year relating to this situation. Gardner said he is not aware that Frost has filed a lawsuit against him or against his league.
Less than seven months after the MTHL suspension, in April 1997, Frost was an assistant coach with the Quinte Hawks of the Metro Junior Hockey League when he was charged with assaulting Darryl Tiveron, one of his own players, during a playoff game. The assault later was denied by the player, but two off-duty police officers say they witnessed the incident. Frost pleaded guilty to assault charges that summer.
"I had two choices," Frost said. "I could have gone to court and won, or I plead guilty and prevent all the kids on my team from having to go to court and testify. My lawyer went into chambers and came out and said, 'You plead guilty to grabbing and pointing at him, you pay $250 and you'll have no criminal record.' I decided to plead guilty, but I refuse to allow anyone to say I punched this kid when I did not."
For the record, Tiveron is playing hockey at an American university and continues to work for Frost at his Elite Hockey School.
At Quinte, Frost coached Jefferson, Barnes, Keefe and Cation, the players who eventually would wind up together first on the St. Mike's Majors OHL team to start this season before being traded as a pack in a controversial deal to the Barrie Colts in January. Frost didn't only coach the players in Quinte, they lived in a hotel with him. The players became known as the Quinte Four. They did what Frost said, when he said it.
"It was eerie," one St. Mike's source said. "It wasn't the kids speaking. It was Dave Frost speaking."
On the Majors television broadcasts on Rogers Cable, Jefferson asked to be an intermission guest one game after previously refusing. He went on between periods and all but swore his allegiance to Frost.
Darren Ferris, the director of Canadian operations for Woolf Associates, the player agency firm led by Bobby Orr, used to coach against Frost in the OHA. When St. Mike's made deals to acquire the Quinte Four, Ferris called the Majors to warn them.
"I told them, 'You just made a deal with the devil. Be very careful,' " Ferris said.
"Not surprised," Frost said in response. "Darren and I don't like each other."
Said someone very close to the Frost family: "Everybody complains about him and nothing is ever done."
There are so many other Frost stories.
One story has him dumping a garbage can over a bantam player's head after a game and telling the player he played like garbage. Frost's version? "I took a garbage can, walked over to the player and put it in front of him. It was Joe Goodenow, Bob's son. I told him, 'That's how you played tonight, like garbage.' I looked over at Bob. He nodded his head and agreed."
Goodenow, the executive director of the NHL Players' Association, is a strong supporter of Frost and a former coaching mentor. Some believe Goodenow's powerful place in the hockey world has prevented others from speaking out about Frost.
Another story: At a recent OHL game between the Barrie Colts and Oshawa Generals, Frost apparently entered the Civic Centre through the scout's entrance. According to the Generals, Frost allegedly signed in using the name of John Elkin, a part-time scout with the Calgary Flames. Upon learning of this, general manager Wayne Daniels chased down Frost and asked him to leave the building.
Frost denies signing in with someone else's name.
"Did Wayne Daniels tell you this? He and I don't get along.
"You want to know what happened? I walked in through the back door with John (Elkin)," Frost said. "I had tickets waiting for me at the front door. I always have tickets. I entered the arena without paying, that's what I did wrong. Next time I'll walk around to the front door and pick up my tickets."
Said Elkin, a friend of Frost: "I don't want anybody using my name."
This pattern of paranoia seems pertinent in Frost's hockey life.
After being interviewed for this story, Frost called The Sun more than 15 times, and he put his network to work. His players, previously unavailable, suddenly were available. Unsolicited calls came in from players' parents, former associates and general managers, as if a political campaign were being waged to bring a positive spin to Frost's reputation.
A few months ago, Frost told people he had interviewed for the vacant coaching job with the Mississauga Ice Dogs, a team owned by Don Cherry. In the recent Sun interview, Frost again made references to the Mississauga job and said: "Don Cherry hates me." Since the Sun interview, Frost told The Sun he talked only to Dick Cherry, Don's brother.
Don Cherry says he doesn't know David Frost. "Unless he's someone I've shaken hands with, I don't know him," Cherry said. "I know he was telling people I interviewed him. But I don't know the guy at all. I wouldn't know him if I fell over him."
Another problem that had to be straightened out was Frost's relationship with the Detroit Red Wings. Ryan Barnes, one of Frost's players, was drafted by the Wings. When Wings scout Joe McDonnell went to speak to Barnes in an arena one night this season, Frost intervened. Words were exchanged.
"When we have to talk about Ryan Barnes now, we deal with Mike Gillis," Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill said. "That's all I would like to say."
The best of the Frost players in Barrie is Sheldon Keefe, who is having a sensational season, having passed the 100-point mark as a rookie. And yet teams already are concerned about him. One NHL general manager said he felt sorry for Keefe because "Frost is going to hurt his draft position."
Keefe plans to have Frost sit beside him at the NHL draft in June, no matter what others may think.
"He has been the biggest influence in my career," Keefe said in a rare interview on Frost. "He taught me how to play the game.
"To be honest, I think there's a lot of jealousy out there. A lot of people don't like that he has had success. I know what he has done for me ... Being labelled as one of his guys, I wouldn't want anything else."
Gillis, for one, can't understand all the fuss that surrounds Frost. While Gillis is quick to say that Frost doesn't work for him, he does support him. Frost said he makes a healthy living from operating his Elite Hockey School and by giving private hockey lessons.
"Take a look at Sheldon Keefe," Gillis said. "He's an 80-plus student OAC, it's his first year, he'll finish with more than 50 goals and 125 points. The kid is an example we should be holding up of what we want in the OHL."
The situation at St. Mike's has calmed considerably since Frost's four players were sent to Barrie. Why were they dealt en masse? General manager Mark Napier said he was concerned about the influence Frost had over the four boys but would not elaborate.
"These kids have invested their hockey futures with Dave Frost," Napier said. "I'm not saying that's good or bad. I'm just saying they've done it. We had some issues (with them), issues I would rather not talk about."
And so on it goes -- concern, silence and disgust from his enemies, and absolute allegiance from his supporters.
"Success breeds jealousy," Frost said. "I kind of like the controversy, as long as I know what I'm doing is best for the player. I don't care who I rub the wrong way. I'm not about to change. Not for anybody."