Former Stingrays hockey player skating into a new passion - exercising dogs!
It’s a hot and humid late summer afternoon on Daniel Island, but Max Nicastro and his furry friend, Sheriff, are ready to roll.
“Let’s go buddy,” says Nicastro, and he pushes off on his Alkali rollerblades near the edge of Smythe Lake and the pit bull mastiff mix eagerly follows on a leash. As Nicastro’s wheels rumble along the brick paver path along the water’s edge near Pirate Park, Sheriff looks like he’s hit the doggy jackpot. The experience is clearing scoring with Nicastro as well.
“There are no dull moments!” he adds with a smile.
A former Charleston Stingrays hockey player, and later referee, Nicastro hung up his skates last year at the end of the season, ready for a change. Combining his love of hockey with a passion for pets, he recently decided to launch a new dog walking service – with a twist. He calls himself the “Skate Dogtor.”
“I kind of looked at myself in the mirror and said do I want to do another 20, 25 years of the hockey life? Or can I do something that keeps me on DI and start a family? Then I thought of the dog walking. I was always skating with my friends’ dogs for fun and saw how much they absolutely loved it. I wish I had thought of it years ago. That was the deciding factor. If I can make an honest living on DI and be able to stay here, I’m gonna do it!”
Nicastro doesn’t remember much about life before hockey. He was about 4-years-old when he started roller skating at a rink down the street from his house in Thousand Oaks, California.
“My parents took us down there, my brother and I,” Nicastro recalled. “It was an old school roller rink, wood floors and everything…We played there growing up.”
His parents never pushed anything on him, he added, but for Nicastro and his brother – the rink offered a great outlet. They fell in love with roller skating – and from there he transitioned into ice hockey at age 10.
“Then the snowball just kind of kept rolling,” he added.
Nicastro went on to play travel hockey as a teenager, competing in Canada and along the east coast. He was picked up by the Chicago Steel for junior hockey and moved there for two years.
“That’s kind of where I really blossomed.”
Nicastro went on to Boston University on a hockey scholarship and left to play pro hockey his junior year, after signing with the Detroit Redwings. He went on to play in Grand Rapids (where his team won the Calder Cup) and Toledo. Then the injuries started racking up.
“My first game as a pro, I was concussed for 25 games. I came back from that, scored my first goal and started playing great. Then I tore up my ACL.”
He tried to come back after his recovery, but didn’t get resigned. To regain his strength as a player and to prove himself, he left the U.S. hockey scene to play the sport in Slovakia. The warm climate of Orlando would come calling later – and then, the Charleston Stingrays.
“It was really good,” said Nicastro, of his time with the Stingrays. “Really can’t beat it. Honestly, I love Charleston…weather-wise, hockey-wise, all of that. Just being here, I absolutely love it.”
After his season with the Stingrays ended in 2017, he moved to the Daniel Island area from Ladson with his fiancée, Bri, who works at Benefitfocus. He was looking for a way to reinvent himself – and the Skate Dogtor idea was born.
“Over the years, if I was on my skates and saw a dog I would ask (its owner) if I could take him on a spin,” said Nicastro. “It just kind of clicked!”
He has two French bulldogs that are “super lazy,” he added, so they ride along in a stroller. Nicastro has also had a number of rescue dogs over the years.
“Dogs have been in my family forever,” he continued. “If I see any dog on the street, I’m talking to it! I love dogs. Dogs just open me up, I think.”
As the Skate Dogtor, Nicastro offers his four-legged friends a style of exercise they won’t likely find elsewhere. His mission is to increase a dog’s overall health and give them an outlet in a cautious, moderate way. Among the benefits he touts are weight loss, stronger muscles and bones, decreased separation anxiety, calmer aggression, boredom prevention, longevity, elimination or reduction in destructive behavior, and a “healthy/hard snooze” afterwards.
Why is pet exercise important? According to Dr. Damon Padgett at Clements Ferry Veterinary, it is estimated that well over 50 percent of dogs in the U.S. are classified as overweight or obese.
“It is an epidemic not only for humans but our four-legged friends, too,” noted Dr. Padgett. “Regular daily exercise and a high quality and correct amount of food is essential in keeping your pet healthy. There is no one amount of exercise that is perfect for every dog. They will alert you when they are fatigued by their behavior.”
Padgett gives Nicastro’s pet wellness efforts a thumbs up.
“The services provided by the Skate Dogtor are a perfect way to increase your pets exercise in a fun and rewarding way. It will increase his energy, and help to fend off chronic debilitating diseases such as osteoarthritis and diabetes to name a few.”
Depending on the dog’s age, weight and breed, Nicastro will create a personalized plan after an initial complimentary “meet and greet” skate with his clients. Prices start at $20 per session for a 10 skate package.
“In most cases, they’ll be able to run or jogwalk at whatever pace they’re feeling that day without overexertion,” states the Skate Dogtor website.
Skate sessions last approximately 30 minutes and always include a nice warm-up, potty breaks and cool down. Nicastro brings along a variety of necessities for the ride, such as treats, water, a tool to make repairs to his skates if needed, and even a small fan mister on hot days. For Nicastro, who is fully insured and certified in dog CPR, first aid and safety, the well-being of his canine clients is a top priority.
“The number one thing you have to consider is just being super precautionary,” he added. “Biggest thing is safety. So I take it super easy…You’re not just walking them. You have to be on your toes…You have to really engage with them. It’s just really cool to see that side of dogs.”
Did he ever think 10 years ago, while just beginning his dive into professional hockey, he would one day be exercising dogs for a living?
“I’m not surprised,” he admits. “Anybody that knows me knows I am very outgoing. I don’t plan on working at a desk. I’ve got to be doing something! This is the best thing I could think of.”
No doubt his clients think it’s a pretty doggone good idea, too. Learn more at www.skatedogtor.com.