Reading (PA) Eagle/Reading Times
November 19, 2006
Although the former Danbury team had dubious connections, three Reading players have fond memories of their time there.
Their former team, founded on April Fools' Day, has become a joke in minor league hockey circles. ESPN The Magazine recently dubbed its former owners the Sopranos of hockey.
But, looking back, Reading's Doug Christiansen, Jeff State and Shawn Collymore have fond memories of their time with the United Hockey League's Danbury Trashers.
The Galante family who owned it really cared about it and really took care of the guys, said State, a defenseman with the Trashers during the inaugural 2004-05 season. It was a good experience. It wasn't just a corporation, it was an actual family that really cared. They were good people.
Jim Galante, a Connecticut trash-hauling magnate, spent millions to put together the team. He handed general manager duties to his 18-year-old son, A.J. Galante. And no, there wasn't a daughter named Meadow.
The elder Galante was one of 29 people indicted in June on 72 different counts, including racketeering, witness tampering, conspiracy to extort, mail fraud and wire fraud. Shortly after his father was arrested, A.J. folded the team.
Jim Galante was allegedly connected to New York's Genovese crime family. Prosecutors say mobster Matty The Horse Ianniello collected $30,000 in cash four times a year from Galante, who in exchange enjoyed no competition in the garbage business.
The indictment stretched into the hockey operations. Galante allegedly violated the UHL's $275,000 salary cap by giving some players and their wives no-show jobs with the trash company, and by hiding illegitimate payments as housing allowances. The real payroll was close to $750,000, according to the indictment.
Former Trashers coach J. Todd Stirling pleaded guilty to using federally regulated communication lines to commit fraud earlier this month. Five former players Brent Gretzky (Wayne's brother), Jeff Daw, Jim Duhart, Jay Murphy and goalie Scott Stirling (Todd's son) were reportedly called before the grand jury to testify.
You don't expect to see people that you played with having federal charges brought against them, Christiansen said. And coaches, too. It was shocking. I'm sure that'll all sort itself out.
Whatever the rumors are, you wouldn't know it from knowing the family because they're so nice, State said. They really took care of the guys. They always had us over for dinner at the house.
A.J. Galante put together a tough, experienced 2004-05 squad that included NHL-experienced players Michael Rupp, Garrett Burnett and Ruman Ndur. Former Royals forward John Morlang and former Reading equipment manager Tom T-Bone Pomposello also were on board.
That team set a UHL record for penalty minutes (2,776) en route to the league semifinals. Pomposello was let go early in the season after reportedly fighting Richmond general manager Jeff Croop during a rowdy home game.
At one time, our lineup had 11 or 12 legit heavyweights who had either played in the NHL or AHL, State said. It was just scary. Me and Dougie were probably at the bottom of the line of guys who could fight.
The slightly less gritty 2005-06 team (2,258 penalty minutes), which included Collymore, reached the Colonial Cup Finals.
I enjoyed it a lot, Collymore said. It was like a fresh breath of air. I enjoyed my year in the UHL and in Danbury. The organization took very good care of you. They treated us like an American Hockey League team.
Fans consistently packed the tiny Danbury Ice Arena on weekends, including Section 102, the Trashers' answer to the 700 Level at the Vet or Cleveland's Dawg Pound. It was filled with foul-mouthed fans who waved body bags when an opposing player got knocked down in a fight.
The majority of the fans were great and very supportive, Christiansen said. Some of the fans in the one section, they didn't cheer the way I would want people to cheer. But they obviously paid for a ticket just like everyone else and they could say and do what they wanted.
During one triple-overtime game, the Trashers ran out of dry undershirts. Word reached Section 102, where the fans took off their shirts and sent them down to the locker room.
The fans were great, Collymore said. We had Section 102, which was right behind the visitor's bench. They'd go crazy. It would get pretty nasty out there. I don't know if I'd like to be a visiting player and have them point their finger at me all game. But it was exciting to have fans like that.
State, Christiansen and Collymore each said they were stunned when they heard about the trouble with their former team. Each had nothing but good things to say about the Galantes, whom they admired for their support.
You had whatever you wanted whenever you wanted it, Christiansen said. They basically took a George Steinbrenner approach, which was: I will give you everything; you win.' That's all they asked.
So from that standpoint, it was great. Obviously the expectation was there to win every night, and that's fun as a player to be a part of an organization, like Reading, that's committed to winning.