Colaiacovo has to earn it

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:31 AM ET

While Carlo Colaiacovo's injury-cursed career was on hold for almost a year, the Maple Leafs could not sit still and wait.

A new Leafs' defence will be as hard for Colaiacovo to get past as his bizarre penchant for on-ice mishaps. Since his slow-healing concussion on Jan. 23 and a broken finger while on the farm, the Leafs have added two veterans in Hal Gill and Pavel Kubina with Ian White and Brendan Bell now on the main roster, plus Jay Harrison, Staffan Kronwall and the injured Andy Wozniewski trying to jump up from the Marlies.

Colaiacovo moved ahead of the latter three yesterday when he was added to Toronto's 23-man roster. He worked out with the big team for the first time since becoming ill on the opening day of training camp, with a chance he will play at home tonight against the Atlanta Thrashers.

Colaiacovo, with only 25 National Hockey League games to his credit since he debuted in 2002 , tried to make a statement right away by officially changing his sweater number from 45 to 8, which he wore on the Marlies and through junior with the Erie Otters.

"Pavel said it best when he went (from 73 to 31 last week), it's time to change the luck around here," Colaiacovo said.

"I'm just looking forward to better days because 2006 has been rough."

Among those the 23-year-old first round pick credits with his latest recovery were his large family, team strength coach Matt Nichol and player development coach Paul Dennis, who no doubt helped him with mental hurdles.

"The mind is a powerful thing," Colaiacovo said. "If I can survive this I can pretty much get through anything.

"I've had a couple of strong games with the Marlies (three assists in as many outings). I feel good about my game and how far I've come. I'm ready when the bell comes."

An interesting choice of words, as the benched Bell came back to the lineup in Saturday's 4-3 loss in Montreal and played well, bumping Wade Belak, who partnered with Colaiacovo yesterday at Lakeshore Lions Arena.

"When he gets through practices and looks pretty good or we see a need for him, he'll go in," coach Paul Maurice said. "Brendan still looks good. It's not going to be an automatic (for Colaiacovo)."

Maurice said he would consult general manager John Ferguson before making any blueline changes with the GM at the board of governors meeting in Florida.

Teammates were elated to see Coliacovo yesterday.

"I've been with him all summer and he's gone through a lot," said centre Matt Stajan. "I don't think there's anyone who doesn't feel sorry for him. But he's a great hockey player and a good person. He's going to look forward now and put all his flukey injuries in the past. Hopefully, he's got a long career ahead of him."


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