Carlo back on the big stage

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:30 AM ET

For the first time in 11 months, Carlo Colaiacovo's afternoon nap did not include a bad dream about playing again for the Maple Leafs.

A place in the starting lineup was a reality for Toronto's walking medical mishap, who defied the critics and made it back for last night's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Partnered with Pavel Kubina, Colaiacovo played an effective 11 minutes nine seconds and was an even plus-minus with a shot on goal.

"I'll do my talking on the ice," Colaiacovo said before the game, when asked about those who doubt he'll stay healthy for long. "The last six months (including weeks of skating by himself without a stick) have helped me become more mentally strong."

On top of bizarre injuries since the Leafs drafted him 17th overall in 2001, came three setbacks in 2006, a concussion, dizziness and a broken finger.

But coach Paul Maurice happily informed him after yesterday's morning workout that he was "a hockey player again", replacing Brendan Bell.

"He doesn't have to go coast to coast, he doesn't have to worry about his draft status hanging around his neck," Maurice said. "He has to do what Brendan and Ian White have done -- fight for his ice time."

DADDY ON DUTY

Kubina has been reunited with girlfriend Andrea and infant daughter Tereza, both of whom arrived in Toronto from the Czech Republic late Sunday night.

Kubina chartered a plane home for the birth last month, but until Tereza's ears could withstand a long flight and the danger of infections from passengers in close quarters had passed, Pavel had to get updates on his first-born's progress via pictures on the web.

"It's great, I'm at home playing with her all the time," Kubina said, adding that he has found normal sleep patterns and diaper changing to be a challenge.

DOUBLE HOOK

When Maurice pulled Jean-Sebastien Aubin for Andrew Raycroft last night after the roles were reversed in Detroit on Saturday, it marked the first time since Nov ember 1996 that the Leafs had made such a move. The previous time involved Felix Potvin getting lifted for Damian Rhodes in back-to-back games.


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