For the Galante family, the Sopranos parallels are unavoidable. Jimmy Galante is a Bronx-born garbage magnate with suspected mob ties, who by the early aughts had a business empire worth a reported $100 million. Just like Tony Soprano (played by a different Jim, Gandolfini), the fictional boss of Northern New Jersey whose official business was “waste management,” Galante ruled a fiefdom in the New York City suburbs from his office in Danbury, Connecticut.
Soprano and Galante’s sons even had the same name — AJ. Yet whereas AJ Soprano’s football career was cut short by panic attacks and a love of nü metal, AJ Galante was a hockey player. Or at least he was, until a catastrophic injury his senior year. While he was still hobbling around on crutches, AJ received some exciting news: his father had bought a minor league hockey team, and AJ was going to run it as its general manager.
In, Crime and Penalties, the latest episode of Untold, Netflix’s new sports documentary series, directors Chapman and Maclain Way (previously of Wild Wild Country) tell the story of how AJ Galante, 17-year-old son of an alleged mobster and unapologetic fan of pro wrestling and The Mighty Ducks, turned the Danbury Trashers into the bad boys of the UHL. While sporting gold chains, oversized jerseys, and an always lined up fade, Galante fostered an environment in which fighting was not only tolerated, but encouraged. “What I learned is that for most of the enforcers, it was their job. They didn’t really like it,” AJ told me. “We found the guys that liked it.”
Galante’s goal for the Trashers to kick the other teams’ asses, both with their sticks and their fists, drove him to put together a rag-tag team of unlikely scorers and unrepentant goons that included Wayne Gretzky’s brother, Brent, David Beauregard — a former top prospect who washed out of the NHL after losing an eye — two brothers highly reminiscent of the Hanson Brothers from Slapshot, and a rogue’s gallery of bruisers that included Brad “Wingnut” Wingfield and Ruman “The Nigerian Nightmare” Ndur. Many of whom AJ found by browsing websites like hockeyfights.com, and whose services the Trashers were able to afford thanks to some allegedly creative accounting tricks pulled by AJ’s father. Together they built a successful hockey team, but at significant personal cost.
Naturally, Slapshot plus The Sopranos was extremely my wheelhouse, so I jumped at the chance to speak with AJ Galante. He’s still in Danbury, now running a boxing gym, but didn’t mind reliving the glory days of the Trashers for posterity.
The Sopranos was hitting its stride right around the time that you started leading this team. What did you think of it when it first came out?
People don’t believe me when I say this, but I didn’t watch it. I ended up watching it years later. Someone, I don’t know, a Christmas gift or something, gave me a box set DVD. I can’t speak for my father, but I don’t think he watched it before that, either. I heard about it, I knew what it was, but it wasn’t until after I think someone got us a complete box set after the show was over that I actually watched it.
But you didn’t have people coming up to you being like, “Oh, man, you’ve got to see this. His dad’s in the trash business and”–
Yeah, I know. I used to hear it, “he’s named AJ!” and the kid was a little kid douchebag kid, I think. And I was like, “Oh, that’s great. That’s nice.” But no, I mean, I didn’t live under a rock, I understood what the story was and some of the characters, but truthfully, I didn’t watch it until years later.
What did you think of it when you finally saw it?
Great show. And I know what you’re getting at with it. Look, anyone that grows up over here in the Northeast, there wasn’t an Italian-American that I knew around here that didn’t think, “Oh, that could be me,” or, “That could be this one,” or, “That could be that.” So I don’t know, I’ve heard it my whole life, I used to hear that type of stuff. It was a great show though, for sure.
Tell me about Danbury.
Well, Danbury, I’m still here, obviously. We’re about an hour north of New York City. And it’s weird, because this part of Connecticut, it’s like New York will never claim us, because we’re in Connecticut, but Connecticut doesn’t claim us, because we’re so close to New York. There’s two Connecticuts. There’s the New York Connecticut, which is like us. And then, there’s New England Connecticut, like Boston Red Sox fan Connecticut. Danbury, it’s a blue collar town. It’s never really had a major identity, so it’s kind of like everyone I knew who I grew up with, they ended up moving to the city, for more opportunities and stuff. But hey, I stayed here, I’m trying to build stuff over here. I know when my dad started the team, one of his main reasons was, “Hey, I want to bring an identity to the city.” It only lasted two years, but we’re still talking about it to this day.
What was the injury that actually ended your hockey career?
So, I was playing. It was my second game of my senior year, and it was just a fluke thing. There was a little rut in the ice, and my right blade on my skate got stuck. It kind of immobilized my leg, and I went to pivot and turn, and my leg was just there. I just went down. I didn’t feel anything at the time. I don’t know if it was adrenaline, but then I just couldn’t get up. My knee cap was actually on the side of my knee — which I didn’t know at the time, because I had all my gear on. Then when the pain started rushing to my body, I just started pounding on my leg, which sent the knee cap back into place. But in doing that, I tore, I don’t know what the official diagnosis was, but I tore all these ligaments and cartilage, and I had a chip in my kneecap. It was tough. I had three surgeries in six months on it. It was definitely a tough injury, and it was just a fluke thing.
The film goes into a lot of the fights that were going on. What were the craziest ones that maybe didn’t make it into the film or that you remember, but you just didn’t have footage for?
Honestly, I haven’t seen the doc yet, so you know better than me, but I mean, a lot of the footage I think they have is from my home video camera. I used to bring my home video up there and videotape when I knew something was going to happen. A lot of it we tried to set up. The other guys didn’t know that, but we knew that. I mean, there was a lot of stuff, away games were crazy too, because usually, hockey teams, they’re tough at home, but when they go away, they kind of shy away from it. But we kept it very balanced, so a lot of the away games were crazy too. My mom wouldn’t let me go because I had school, but a lot of the away games got crazy — fans throwing stuff, all that. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see a lot of it live. Thankfully. I would have been right in there with them. But my mom said I couldn’t go, so that’s that.
When you say you set it up, obviously, fans love hockey fights, I like watching hockey fights, but it’s not in the rule book. As the team president, how did you sort of foster an environment that would make it happen?
I learned very early on there’s enforcers in hockey, obviously. But what I learned is most of the enforcers, it was their job. They didn’t really like it. We found the guys that liked it. And they’re sick. A lot of guys are like, “Look, this is how I’m going to stay on the team. I do what I got to do,” they throw two punches and then they hug. I was like, “We need to find the guys that like this, that actually care about it.”
It sounds crazy, but we found them. We’d sit literally in the locker room, and if I had my Dad sometimes, he’d be like, “Yeah, number 17 over there, he’s got a real attitude.” So, we would, from the box, sometimes we’d throw up numbers, like number 12, and one of our guys would go to number 12 and try to goad him into a fight. Sometimes it happened, sometimes it didn’t. But in a weird way, it was like playing video games. And it was sick, because a couple of the guys, Wingfield, Murasty, I’d be like, “Number two,” and they’d nod, and they just did it. They were nuts. We were nuts. The whole thing was crazy.
It seems like such a funny combination to me. You guys are kind of like streetwise Italian guys, New York kind of guys, and then, you’ve got these rustic Canadians that are playing hockey, who seem kind of like the opposite thing, but you guys are all just thrown together in this hockey environment.
Yeah. No, hockey guys are the most humble guys. And the enforcers are the best guys off the ice. I was just telling someone, a lot of the enforcers that would fight each other were friends, they were buddies. So, it was a weird dynamic to learn how this stuff works, but no, I mean, like I said, it’s the personalities. We found guys that cherished this role. A lot of those guys they were shunned from other teams, because they were a little nuts. So, when they came here, for them, it was heaven, because we, in so many ways, we wanted that. Hockey, a lot of teams, you have to have that, but a lot of teams don’t want it, they just need it. We wanted and needed it. So a lot of the guys we brought in, they were treated like gods, and they’re very loyal, these hockey guys. They never forgot who would treat them the way we treated them.
On the other side, in terms of scorers, you had this guy Beauregard, the guy with the one eye. Great character. Why did he stop playing in the NHL after he lost the eye?
Well, we’re playing one night, our first year against Port Huron. I think that’s in Michigan or Illinois. And this guy has a full fishbowl visor. In the pros, at the time, everyone either had to a half visor or no visor. And so I’m like, “Who the hell is this guy?” And he ends up scoring four goals against us.
And they’re like, “Oh, that guy, David Beauregard, he’s got one eye.” So, I guess he was a big high-level prospect coming up, and from what I heard, he was on a breakaway once. He had no visor or anything, and he ended up getting hooked from behind, and the stick ended up coming up and taking his eye out. Obviously, I didn’t see that, that was way before the Trashers time. But unfortunately, a lot of NHL teams, foolishly, in my opinion, kind of steered away from him, because he’s got one eye. But I tell you what, he was one of the greatest athletes I ever saw in my life. I think one of the biggest things I ever did is I pursued him our second year. He was just unbelievable, that guy.
He never got any settlement money out of that for losing an eye while playing?
You know what? I don’t know. That’s a good question. But from what he told me, it was an accident. The guy wasn’t swinging a stick at him, it was more or less just kind of a fluke thing. He was getting hooked, and it just came up and caught him.
You had the two brothers on the team. How much was signing those two brothers at the same time influenced by Slapshot?
Again, no one believes me, but I never watched Slapshot the whole way through. And people are like, “Oh, I get it. They modeled their team on Slapshot.” I swear to you. I watched little parts here or there, but I never sat down and watched Slapshot. But yeah, the brothers, we had a mutual friend, and they ended up coming on board. And oh man, those two are fun. I’s amazing, because they could play on the same line together. Sometimes in sports, with siblings, you kind of separate them a little bit, but they just, I mean, they’re not even twins, but they were so in sync with each other, it was incredible.
I read about the equipment manager, that you guys had maybe playing some tricks on the other teams [such as soaking the home jerseys in Crisco so the other team couldn’t grab them]. What were some of the things that he did to try and get an edge?
I heard some things, “allegedly.” We may or may not have planned some of these things, but no, I mean everything from the stupidest pranks. Turning off the heat. The rink in Danbury is cold. I mean, it’s a rink, but excessively cold for some reason. And look, anything to get the mental advantage, the intimidation factor. Stupid, annoying things like the opposing bench may or may not have been welded so they couldn’t open the door. That doesn’t seem like a big deal, but if you’re in the middle of the third period, and your legs are tired and you don’t want to hop over the boards… Those are little stupid things that things would happen. There may have been a fish, a couple of fish planted in the air vents. That’s always a nice smell in the cold. I heard there might’ve been fire alarms pulled at hotels, 2:00, 3:00 in the morning, things like that. The old days when you could do fun stuff like that.
In the movie there were the brothers, there was Beauregard, there was Wingfield, and the Nigerian Nightmare. Were there other guys that you remember fondly that they couldn’t get in the movie?
Oh God, Jon Mirasty. Jon “Nasty” Mirasty. He was about five foot seven with boots on. And he was built like a shit brick house. He was a Native American Indian, from somewhere in Saskatchewan. When I tell you this guy’s head was like… you could hit it with a bat, and he’d just smile. I saw a tape of him once – when Wingfield got hurt, we lost our big enforcer at the time. So, we were looking to replace him. And this guy came to me in a lobby with a book of VHSs, and he said, “I want you to watch. It’s my buddy Jon Mirasty.” He’s in Bakersfield, California at the time. And I went to college on the Monday, and I’m watching the tape of this guy. I was like, “We have to have him. He was this little guy, big balloon head, and he would throw 100 punches a minute. You could hit him with everything, and he’d sit and he’d smile. I just became a fan. We brought him in midway through the first year. He was a favorite. There were so many guys. Mike Rupp, who ended up playing in the NHL. He was with us during the lockout the first year. So many different guys. I mean, too many to name.
If you’re a minor league hockey enforcer, and once you’re too old to play hockey, what are the most of these guys do afterwards?
I was just talking to Brad Wingfield the other day. He actually runs with two other guys a hockey development camp. A lot of these guys turn to coaching, believe it or not. I was looking into them actually a few months back, kind of reaching out, seeing where people are. A lot of them are coaching now, actually. It’s crazy. One of my favorite guys is in the UK, coaching in a big league out there. So many guys, they just stay in the sport one way or the other.
Are you in your boxing gym now?
I’m in my gym now. I got no A/C in here, so it’s like I’m dying, but what are you going to do? You can’t spoil them.
In your boxing gym, are you getting in there and sparring and training with them, or are you just the manager guy?
I put a kid in, 12-years-old, five years ago, when I was pushing 30. I was just messing with him. I didn’t grow up boxing, and this kid is actually now, at 17, the number one ranked super heavyweight in America. And I put him in there, when he was a little fat kid, 11, 12-years-old. He hit me in the face with a shot, and I couldn’t let him know it hurt me, but it was like getting hit with a brick, I’ll never forget it. My eyes watered. And thankfully, it was just us two in the gym at the time. And, number one, I realized I need to keep my ass out of the ring. The second thing I realized was this kid is going to be special. And he’s actually on pace to hopefully represent America in the 2024 Olympics. He’s unbelievable. But no, I don’t get in there. I kind of stay in my little hole here, and I just observe, and kind of do what my dad did with the Trashers, what I grew up watching him do. I kind of just sit back and observe and kind of play chess from here.