Cold, hard facts hit Carlo

Jason Allison gets tied up with Carlo Colaiacovo during Toronto Maple Leafs practice at Lakeshore...

Jason Allison gets tied up with Carlo Colaiacovo during Toronto Maple Leafs practice at Lakeshore Lions Arena, December 16, 2005. (SUN/Alex Urosevic)

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

Paul Maurice does not want to sound like the bad guy by suggesting Carlo Colaiacovo's indefinite absence might open the door for the other candidates vying for a spot on the Maple Leafs blue line.

But, he says, that is the cruel reality of the situation.

Colaiacovo, one of the pre-camp frontrunners to land a job on the Leafs defence, departed practice and staggered to the dressing room during the first day of on-ice workouts on Friday.

While both Maurice and general manager John Ferguson said yesterday that Colaiacovo's wooziness is not believed to be related to the concussion he suffered in Ottawa last January, the team is taking no chances.

Not only will Colaiacovo not take part in the annual Blue-White game today at Ricoh Coliseum, he'll likely miss the Leafs' exhibition opener tomorrow against the Buffalo Sabres.

Rightly or wrongly, his absence provides an opportunity for the five other youngsters looking to land the fifth and sixth positions on the Toronto defence.

"Injuries always have that effect," Maurice said after putting his team through another round of skating-based drills yesterday.

"Carlo is a teammate. We all wish him the best. But I didn't do a Buffalo lineup two weeks ago. I plan on doing it sometime today after talking to the trainer. I think Carlo would have had as good a chance as anyone of being in that lineup. Now, someone else gets a chance.

"No question, that is a tough part of injuries. But the positive is we have a lot of guys who want that chance."

Guys such as Ian White,Staffan Kronwall, Jay Harrison, Andy Wozniewski and Brendan Bell, to be specific.

The battle to secure jobs behind veterans Bryan McCabe, Tomas Kaberle, Hal Gill and Pavel Kubina begins in earnest this afternoon in the Blue-White tilt, followed by an intense pre-season schedule that features five games in seven days.

White and Kronwall would seem to have a slight disadvantage in that they do not need to clear waivers in order to be sent down to the Marlies. But neither blue-liner is concerned about that, preferring to earn a job with the big club on merit.

"It's something I can't control," White said. "Staff and I just go out there and play and try to do the things which earned us looks with the Leafs last year.

" I don't think anything that small is going to deter anyone from picking up a spot."

Speaking of small, White claims he is 5-foot-10, but appears to be a tad shorter. Nevertheless, it's been his big heart and flashy offensive skills that should net him a long look this year.

"(My size) might have been an obstacle, but I haven't noticed it," he said."I haven't had too many problems getting here. Unless you have a coach who doesn't like little guys, I don't think it'll be a factor."

Standing next to White, the towering 6-foot-4 Kronwall looks like Shaq Daddy.

"I don't know if they are looking for a bigger guy or shorter quicker guys," the big Swede said. "That's up to the coaches."

Asked about what factor the waiver situation would have in the fight for blue line jobs, Maurice was blunt.

"The best six defencemen will make the team, no matter what," he said.

As for Colaiacovo, he is scheduled to be re-evaluated today and tomorrow.

"We have no evidence that it's concussion-related," Maurice said. "But because of the fact he's had one, we're not going to throw him back on the ice. If he hadn't had any, he might even be practising. He might not be feeling very good, but he might be practising.

"We're not going to risk anything early on. He's been working with our strength guy all summer so we know what he's been doing. Hopefully he heals up and is back soon."

Once the pre-season kicks off tomorrow, expect Maurice to stick with whichever goalie starts for the entire 60 minutes.

"I don't believe in goalies coming in midway through games," he said. "Having goalies split games is like preparing for a golf tournament by playing nine holes."


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