Life in skates: Mary behind the scary

Mary Giacalone has spent her entire life in ice skates, starting as a figure skater at age five. Photo credit: Jasper Myers

The metal blades cut through the freshly cleaned ice as Mary Giacalone steps on to start her lesson.

She stands before six young boys, dressed in their hockey gear, her loud voice commanding their attention and respect. With each whistle blow, the boys get in position and perform the exercises.

From left: Julien Dupuis, Dale Junkin, Cole Williamson, Rocko Pigioni, Nolan Showers, and Mary Giacalone. Mary poses with some students after class. Photo credit: Jasper Myers

At the end of the lesson, the boys thank Giacalone and skate off the ice to get changed.

Even though Giacalone has never played a game of hockey in her life, the UOIT Ridgebacks power skating coach has trained many hockey players who have gone on to play professionally, such as Joel Ward, P.K. Subban, and James Neal.

Born and raised in Oshawa, Giacalone started as a figure skater at five years-old before making the switch to power skating as an adult.

Power skating refers to the training and development of technique, power and speed in skating. When she first started coaching power skating, it was far more intense.

“So when I first started, my goal was to skate the guys as hard as I could,” says Giacalone. She adds if they threw up, it meant she did her job right.

She credits this as the reason she earned the nickname ‘Scary Mary’ which she says is a term of endearment.

Justin Caruana, head coach of the UOIT Ridgebacks women’s hockey team, skated for Giacalone in his youth and now co-owns Scary Skate, Giacalone’s power skating school.

He says Giacalone never really scared him.

“Maybe a couple times when we had to skate a little more than we probably wanted to, there was a little bit of a scare, in that sense,” says Caruana. “But nothing too scary.”

Kassidy Nauboris, Ridgebacks women’s hockey team captain and occasional Scary Skate employee, says before the team met Giacalone they didn’t know what to expect, but unlike the name suggests, Giacalone is actually really sweet.

“You’re like, ‘Oh god who is this going to be?’ But she is the sweetest, the best, she’s absolutely amazing,” says Nauboris. She adds Giacalone has a lot of knowledge and is a great teacher.

Giacalone’s start in power skating came after a friend of hers, who coached a boys rep team in Oshawa minor hockey, asked her to help teach a couple of his players how to stop on the ice.

“I worked with two or three of the hockey players that were rep players, they were playing triple A, but had trouble turning or couldn’t stop properly,” Giacalone says. “And within two or three lessons I realized that was it, I was in love. I was like this is what I want to do.”

I want to teach hockey players how to skate better.

From there, other coaches called and asked Giacalone to help with their skaters, and she went from arena to arena to teach more players.

Mary Giacalone with one of her students, Jacobs Dupuis. Photo credit: Jasper Myers

One day she received a call from Hank Nowak, a former NHL player, asking if she wanted to work at his hockey school, and she began working as the power skating coach in the summer.

From there, Giacalone went on to coach in the United States for the IHL Saginaw Generals for a couple years, in France for the national team, locally and not-so-locally in the OHL, and all across the province at various levels of hockey.

Giacalone says being a woman made it harder to gain player trust when she first began coaching higher level hockey players, such as the Saginaw Generals.

“I went out, and I started doing the drills with the players, and beating them, and all of a sudden you could see the respect levels, just like ‘yeah she knows what she’s talking about,'” she says, adding gaining the players’ respect was hardest because of her age.

“You have to understand it wasn’t like I was an older lady going out. I was much younger than these guys. I was 19 and 20,” Giacalone says.

She decided to start her own classes and camps all over the GTA. As her business grew bigger, Giacalone realized she could only teach so many hours. She needed to train staff.

Mary Giacalone has owned and operated Scary Skate for over 32 years. Photo credit: Jasper Myers

Giacalone says she decided to call the power skating school Scary Skate after her nickname.

Scary Skate runs power skating development all over the province, with camps and clinics in the off season.

Giacalone is currently in her second year as the skating coach for both the men’s and women’s UOIT Ridgebacks hockey teams.

Coach Caruana says she helps develop the players’ skating both during the season and off season at training camps. He says skating at a high level is so important.

“Any opportunity we have to work on that [skating] or to have Mary out, and utilize that aspect of it is huge for us,” says Caruana. He says Giacalone is passionate in her work and he feels lucky to work with her.

“She’s been one of the best at what she’s done,” Caruana says. “I’ve been very fortunate to be able to skate with her, and to coach with her over the past few years.”

Despite her intimidating reputation, Giacalone has had a positive impact on many of her skaters. UOIT Ridgebacks women’s team captain Nauboris says her favourite thing about training with Giacalone is how much fun they have.

“You always think of skating coaches as never actually fun, but with Mary it’s always been fun.”