Carlo is almost there

MIKE ZEISBERGER

, Last Updated: 11:32 AM ET

ATLANTA -- Carlo Colaiacovo wants to shut up the naysayers. The ones who claim he'll never ma ke it i n t he NHL because he's too injury prone.

The ones who insist he should be a mere afterthought in the future plans of the Maple Leafs organization.

"Definitely it's a motivating factor for me,"Colaiacovo said in a phone interview yesterday. "The critics, the comments, it's all been mentioned in the media and throughout the hockey world.

"Everybody has their opinion.At least the organization has been behind me. I can't say enough about the support they have given me.

"I plan to be back in t he NHL. That hasn't changed."

Colaiacovo does not deny he has suffered more than his share of ailments. Sure, there have been the standard muscle pulls and tears, but he's also experienced some bizarre injuries, too.

There was the time in St. John's, for example, that he was nailed in the side of the head by a shot while playing for the Baby Leafs. After being beaned in the noggin, he was deaf in one ear for more than a month.

But that's nothing compared to 2006.

"Honestly, this has been the toughest year of my life,"he said.

It started back on Jan. 23 when he missed a check on the Ottawa Senators' Vaclav Varada and slammed headfirst into the boards. The ensuing concussion left him out for the remainder of the '05-06 season.

Having received medical clearance, Colaiacovo became woozy on the f irst day of training camp in September, yet another setback. When he finally took to the ice for the Marlies, he broke a bone in his hand.

But Colaiacovo is back now, returning in fine form with an assist in the Marlies 4-2 victory over Milwaukee. He also is scheduled to play tonight in Hamilton against the Bulldogs, then Sunday against Milwaukee again.

"It's part of my three-game conditioning stint,"Colaiacovo said. "I was told that if all goes well, I'll be back up with (the Leafs) next week. It felt awesome being out there (Wednesday). I think I played about 25 minutes. It just reinforced more and more my desire to be in the NHL."


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