There’s an old adage: Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story. You need to keep that in mind when you watch the new documentary on Netflix, “Untold: Crime & Penalties,” which details the wild, short-lived ride of the United Hockey League’s Danbury Trashers, who were owned by mob boss James Galante.
It’s entertaining, yes. And it sheds a light on a sport we love: minor-league hockey. But it’s revisionist history, especially when it comes to former UHL commissioner Richard Brosal and the way he recalls the goings on with Trashers, run by Galante’s son, A.J., who was still in high school when he was announced as the general manager of the new team in 2004.
For Komets fans, there are fun nuggets, namely an interview with former Fort Wayne player David-Alexandre Beauregard, who, despite the way he was portrayed in the film, only played 14 regular-season games for the Trashers (in their second season) along with 18 playoff games. There are also shots in the film of late Komets broadcaster Bob Chase, former captain Guy Dupuis and even majority owner Stephen Franke.
It’s great to relive the antics of players such as Brad Wingfield, an all-timer when it comes to minor-league tough guys, or to see former NHLer Mike Rupp skating in the UHL during the lockout. And it’s jaw-dropping to hear that James Galante essentially offered to put a hit on a player who had broken Wingfield’s leg.
And the Trashers’ logo, harkening to Galante’s waste-management business, is still amazing.
While I understand the need for dramatic effect, and also to make it understandable for people who aren’t knee deep in the goings on of Double-A professional hockey, there are problems in the film.
Brosal insinuates very early on that the UHL was unaware of what was about the happen – namely absurd amounts of cash to be paid under the table to players and blatant breaking of the salary cap – and that’s just preposterous. Everyone at the time knew what was going on, that there was a Sopranos-like owner who wasn’t going to abide by UHL rules, even as that first team was being put together.
Maybe the funniest press release ever written came from the Trashers announcing A.J. Galante as general manager – trumpeting that he’d co-captained his high school team the season before among his qualifications – and the UHL should have right then stopped the Trashers in their tracks.
But Brosal and the UHL let it happen, even as everyone knew a circus was coming to town.
Danbury’s inaugural team, 2004-05, had players such as Bruce Richardson, Brent Gretzky and Mario Larocque, each who had or would go on to have Fort Wayne ties, and no rational person could think anything other than what was happening when it came to building the roster – loads of cash, off the books.
As the film goes on, Brosal’s stance goes from naïve to tough-talking to celebratory of the Trashers’ whole shtick, which amounted to becoming the “Evil Empire” of the UHL with brawls galore and clear intents to injure opponents. Was it fun for the fans in Danbury? Yes. Was it a mockery to the league and the sport as a whole? Absolutely.
As for Brosal, he was terrified of James Galante. There was an FBI wiretap at the time, in which he was not-so-subtly threatening Brosal. Many of us heard it. And there are legendary stories out there of threats made toward the league office. That Brosal is somehow now embracing this part of UHL history comes off as disingenuous.
While the UHL did come down on the Trashers for some incidents, including suspending the equipment manager, the reality is the UHL knew the Trashers were cheating like nobody’s business and the league let it happen.
The filmmakers seem intent on portraying the Trashers as some sort of unbeatable super team and that wasn’t the case. In their inaugural season, they didn’t win their division and lost in the second round of the playoffs. In 2005-06, they had the league’s second-best record and lost to the Kalamazoo Wings in the finals. More than anything, teams just didn’t want to play the Trashers because it was a circus, and not a safe one. Was Danbury’s hockey-playing ability that good? It’s debatable.
I’m a big fan of the rough stuff, but I find it hard to glorify a team that was paying guys many times what other teams could spend. Were other UHL teams cheating the cap? Sure. Were they doing it anywhere near to the extent Danbury was? No way.
Also, the film talks about attendance records being smashed. Not sure what records they were getting at because the Danbury arena was tiny compared to, say, Memorial Coliseum.
So glorify the Trashers all you want, but they were essentially hurting other small businesses around the league – both on and off the ice – and the UHL was either incapable or too afraid to do anything about it. We reported in 2006 that the Trashers had a payroll of $750,000, with three players receiving $100,000 each, and the documentary makes it sound like we may have been way too low. The UHL’s salary cap at the time was $250,000.
A takeaway from the film is how much some stuff hasn’t changed. The aforementioned equipment manager was dinged because he had the hot water turned off in the visitors’ locker room and didn’t provide enough towels. Teams did worse stuff to visitors last season – in the ECHL playoffs.
Do players nowadays still get paid under the table? Yep. Do leagues still let in ownership groups that they know won’t be good for their products or won’t follow the rules? Absolutely, because they want expansion fees or to brag they’ve entered some new market, whether it’s wise or not.
And that’s what “Untold: Crime & Penalties” is really missing: interviews from players and owners from others teams, so they could have talked about the impact outside of Danbury.
It’s worth noting, the UHL died by 2007 and Danbury had something to do with that because cheating and expansion had gotten out of control.
I do recommend you watch the film – it brings back some great memories and is good fun – but absolutely take it with a grain of salt.