With the playoffs’ qualification competition tightening up in the West, Justin Danforth is stepping up for Vityaz, currently the eighth seed in the conference. In his first season in the league, the Canadian forward is scoring at more than a point-per-game pace, with 54 (22+32) points in 52 matches played so far. Playing on a line with Latvian Kaspars Daugavins and Swedish Mattias Tedenby, Danforth is leading Vityaz to its third postseason qualification in a row. Most recently, the Oshawa, Ontario, native has scored four points in the Feb. 7 Vityaz’s win over Kunlun Red Star. Against the Dragons, Danforth opened the score in the first period with less than five minutes to the first intermission. Then, in the middle stanza, he made it a 3-1 game with a powerplay goal from the left circle. Later in the third period, Danforth created for Tedenby the goal that sealed the deal for Vityaz — he also gave a helping hand to the Swedish forward in the first seconds of the second frame. Danforth’s four points were a career-high — in September, the Canadian forward had a three-point performance against Salavat Yulaev, but that time Vityaz had to surrender to Ufa.
Justin Danforth was born in Oshawa, Ontario, a city on the Lake Ontario shoreline. He started playing at the age of four, and had to fight against the difficulties faced by smaller players. Standing at 5-foot-8, Danforth is an elusive player gifted with a fantastic and quick shot, qualities that helped him in shaping his career. Unlike most Canadian junior players, Danforth pursued a career in the National Collegiate Athletic Association, where he lined up for the Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. He was awarded Rookie of the Year honors; then, he made the first Atlantic Hockey All-Star team a couple of years later.
He then moved up, signing a try-out deal in the ECHL in 2017, and he was one of the top scorers for his team, the Cincinnati Cyclones. He had a striking campaign as a rookie, producing 59 (28+31) points in 44 regular-season games for the Cyclones. Naturally, he was awarded Rookie of the Year, despite playing two months in the AHL with the Rochester Americans.
In 2018, after his AHL deal run out, Danforth moved to Europe, signing with Lukko in the Finnish Liiga. In his first season, the Oshawa native made it to the top five scorers, with an astonishing 52 (18+34) points. He quickly renewed his ties with Lukko and emerged as the Liiga’s top scorer in the cut short 2019-2020 campaign, with 60 (27+33) points in 56 regular-season contests. As it often happens, KHL teams went after the Finnish top-flight league’s top scorer, and in May 2020, he agreed to a one-year contract with Vityaz. Naturally, there were some doubts around his signing — not all the top scorers from the Finnish Liiga managed to deliver in the KHL, but Danforth needed only a couple of games at the summer Mayor Cup to show his worth and demonstrate his offensive skills. He then had three assists in the first couple of games but needed a few more matches to open his account of goals in the KHL. Danforth scored his first goal in the KHL on Sep. 15, in Vityaz’s 2-4 loss against Dinamo Minsk. However, less than ten days later, he posted his first double when Vityaz defeated Metallurg 4-1 in a successful away game. A few months later, it can be said that Danforth has been one of the top acquisitions for Vityaz in this offseason. The Moscow Region team is now fighting to reach the playoffs again, even if they have to go past Spartak Moscow. And to make things even more interesting, the last regular-season game will be a showdown between Vityaz and the Red-and-Whites, scheduled on Feb. 27 in Moscow. Will Vityaz’s DDT line be the key to success for the team led by Mikhail Kravets?