Back in 2004, on April Fool’s Day, “the real Tony Soprano” bought his hockey-loving son his very own pro team. It wasn’t a prank.
That’s just the beginning of the journey of James “Jimmy” Galante and his son, AJ Galante. Netflix shares the story of the family in the latest installment of the Untold docuseries titled “Crime & Penalties.” It takes a closer look at the mafia, hockey and the short-lived Danbury Trashers hockey club that established itself as the “bad boys of hockey” in the UHL, an affiliate of the NHL at the time.
“It was just such a surreal experience for me and my father,” AJ said of the film, which the Way Brothers reached out to him about in late 2018. “To see yourself on TV is definitely weird in a way. I knew it would be a great production.”
It’s exciting, gripping and catches you from the very first minute. Featuring interviews with Jimmy and AJ., as well as former members of the Danbury Trashers like Rumun Ndur and brothers Drew and Mike Omicioli (the epitome of brotherly love) and even UHL commissioner Richard Brosal, who delivers a message that resonates deeply with the narrative.
“I made it very clear: if you do something to embarrass this league, you’re going to be dealt with… I didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to assume that something bad was going to happen.”
So, what happened?
AJ Revisits His Roots
Growing up, AJ idolized his father Jimmy, someone who he said would do anything for his family.
“He’s always been basically my best friend,” AJ said of his dad. “I’ve grown up with my father… looking back, it was a great time. I learned a lot directly and indirectly through him. We’ve always been close. I just turned 35 a few weeks ago, and we’re closer than we’ve ever been. It’s a great time, he’s always set me up for success.”
Jimmy owned 25 different trash disposal businesses in Danbury, and they handled 80 percent of garbage hauling in southern and western Connecticut, as well as a couple of counties in New York. He also worked with the Genovese crime family and boss Matthew Ianniello, known as “Matty the Horse.”
“You hear things. A lot of it still to this day, there’s a lot of alleged stuff,” AJ said of his father. “You hear things, and it was a different time back then. Everyone knows someone that knows someone. It’s one of those situations where it’s a normal thing, you don’t know who knows what.”
Regardless, AJ just saw Jimmy as his beloved dad, a role model; nothing more.
“I had a great father who would do anything for my family, just always giving me opportunities even before I deserved them,” AJ explained. “He always put me in a great position to be successful.”
The Love Of The Game
AJ found his life’s calling when he was around 7-8 years old. It was a Saturday afternoon, and his mom took him to see The Mighty Ducks. He fell in love in love with the game then, despite never playing the game before or growing up in a hockey family.
“It was a rag-tag bunch of kids. I don’t know what it was; just watching it… I fell in love with hockey,” AJ said.
AJ begged his mom to take him to sports authority, where he got a pair of rollerblades and street hockey equipment. Danbury didn’t have an ice rink at the time, so AJ taught himself how to skate and learned the game himself. After that, his father took him to his first NHL game, a tilt between the New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins.
“I remember just walking into the arena, you feel that cold air when you walk in… I was totally in after that night,” AJ said. “Scott Stevens cleared somebody out. The roar of the crowd, I was hooked. I had to become like Scott Stevens.
“I wanted to be him so bad. He was an enforcer — he could hit. I was always an aggressive kid. He was like a predator out there,” AJ said of the former Washington Capitals defenseman, who he went on to model his game after.
AJ started off as a forward but switched to defense to get more ice time and further build on his physical game and outlet for aggression. He threw his weight around, delivered crushing hits, played the role of an enforcer and for him, made his father proud. He mentions in the documentary that he loved getting booed and even loved fans flipping the bird.
“What I would do to go back to feeling that again… it was fun. It was such a simpler time,” AJ noted. “All we care about is going out, having fun, trying to win, getting a big hit. Getting people to agitate people. I was always trying to put on a show for my father. I was always trying to get his approval.”
However, a major hit — a “helmet popper” as AJ called it — would end the young enforcer’s playing career. He injured his knee on the play, which he calls a “bittersweet moment.”
“It’s karma I got hurt because I was laying heavy shots, and I guess it’s fitting now that it ends up being my last thing I ever did on the ice… [it was] my Scott Stevens moment, it was a clean hit, shoulder-to-shoulder,” AJ said.
If he could go back in time, though, he wouldn’t change a thing.
“It’s fitting what my life’s become now. That’s the way it had to go out.”
Building the Danbury Trashers
AJ was heartbroken following the end of his playing career, but his father assured him the road wasn’t over there. When he was 17, he went to school, noticing that he was getting looks from classmates and congratulations from a teacher. AJ mentioned in the documentary, his thought was, “the f-‘s going on?”
He found in the paper that his father had purchased a new UHL franchise, fittingly named the Danbury Trashers. AJ would serve as the president and general manager. He and Jimmy didn’t talk too much about the position. It was all sort of impromptu, but that was the beauty of it, in a way.
“We had no plan, we had no plan, we didn’t have board meetings, we didn’t sit there and plan things out. We winged it, that’s really how we did it. Here we are,” AJ noted.
From the get-go, AJ decided that he wanted to form the “evil empire” of hockey with the Danbury Trashers, the “bad-boy” group that featured an arsenal of enforcers. To add flare, Brent Gretzky, the younger brother of “The Great One” Wayne, would serve as the captain.
“In a weird way, I felt connected to him before I even met him. I’ve always been in the shadow of my father in a way. My dad’s just an incredible guy and a visionary… when we had the opportunity to bring Brent in, I felt a connection,” AJ said. “I couldn’t imagine being in the shadow he was in… he was always going to have to deal with that. He had a very successful career, he took on a challenge and I have a lot of respect for him.
Other tough guys such as Ndur, Brad Wingfield and more, also made up the lineup.
“We had a good dynamic. Any time you’re building a team, you do your research on personalities,” AJ said. “We had a group that understood what we were looking to do. However the game was going to go, we were willing to do it.”
Of course, that led to run-ins with Brosal, who didn’t want AJ and the Trashers to do anything to disparage the league. From time to time, Brosal would call AJ while he was driving to lecture him about the team. AJ admits he’d mute the calls to laugh from time to time but truly admired the commissioner.
“I loved him always. I think he had a love-hate for me,” AJ laughed. “When I first met him, he was such a great guy, funny guy, great salesman. It wasn’t gonna deter me or us from what we were looking to do. He was like the school principal, you did everything you could to avoid him. I think we had a great relationship… I knew we were driving him crazy. Contrary to belief, I did respect him a lot. I did respect him, we had a lot of respect for him and he had respect for us. We had a job to do, and part of that was making him crazy.”
The Danbury Trashers’ Legacy
The Trashers lived up to their tough-guy mentality as AJ finally brought a pro hockey club to Danbury. In their inaugural season, they broke the UHL record for penalty minutes with 2,776. Their season also featured one of the league’s biggest brawls with the Kalamazoo Wings following an injury to Wingfield. Ndur stood up for his fallen teammate. Jimmy also got involved — He left the owner’s box, headed down to the penalty box and allegedly punched one of the officials.
“It was one of those things… we considered this team family,” AJ explained. “We go to war for our family.”
“The numbers we put up were absurd. That’s what we were going for,” AJ added. “We’re trying to develop a hockey town out of a town that’s never had hockey. We had a very skilled team… we wanted entertainment and whether people like it or not, fighting and physicality, that was a huge part of hockey. We wanted to have the baddest, the roughest, the toughest team that wouldn’t jeopardize us from winning.
Danbury ultimately finished second in the Eastern Division but was eliminated in the second round. Still, the Trashers won the UHL Merchandiser of the Year award. The following season, they went on to win the Eastern Division thanks to numerous winning streaks over the course of the campaign. Danbury made it to the finals but ultimately fell short against the K-Wings.
“It was a huge accomplishment [to win the division], it was our whole goal, our whole plan. We knew a lot of our antics, the fighting, the physical stuff that was going to get the bulk of the media attention. The reality was we were a good team,” AJ explained. “[We were quietly racking up points, people forgot we were winning games. Unapologetically, it was a lot of psychological warfare with teams.”
Unfortunately, the Danbury Trashers disbanded following controversy in 2006. Jimmy faced 72 charges, including racketeering and a wire fraud charge surrounding the team. Ultimately, Jimmy pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to violate RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act), one count of conspiring to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiring to defraud the IRS. He was sentenced to 87 months in prison and forfeited his ownership interests.
“It was devastating, obviously. The writing was [kind of] on the wall that the end was going to come. You don’t believe that until it actually happens. It was a very tough pill to swallow,” AJ admitted. “When we lost the team, I stopped watching hockey up until two to three years ago. It was like a breakup, I wanted nothing to do with hockey… definitely not the way we wanted things to end. I took it very hard, we all took it very hard.”
To this day, though, AJ and Jimmy have no regrets, and the Danbury Trashers’ legacy lives on to this day.
“My dad and I are in agreement if we could do it all again: absolutely,” AJ said. “I can’t speak for my father — we all make decisions that all come back to us, and I think as long as he could protect his family, he could do what he had to do… I would do it all over again. They teach you in life, the bad guys don’t win at the end of the story.”
Untold: Crimes & Penalties is available to watch on Netflix on Aug. 31. It’s intense, it’s powerful, it’s gritty and much like the game, it’s a total rush.