From can't-miss to can't play

BILL LANKHOF -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:31 AM ET

It is not difficult to recognize Carlo Colaiacovo and Nik Antropov. They're the ones in the blue and white uniform, Maple Leaf on their chest, name emblazoned across their shoulders ... and a little black cloud over their heads.

In this most worrisome of Leafs seasons they've been the poster boys for trouble. Both were once heralded as franchise players. Both have hockey bios that make fascinating reading -- if you like the Journal of Medical Science. On the sports pages, their careers read more like the calamities of Charlie Brown.

"I don't enjoy talking about it much," Colaiacovo said yesterday.

Athletes can be superstitious like that; the theory being if you have bad thoughts then bad things will surely follow. And lets face it; as natural disasters go, Antropov and Colaiacovo have been a tag-team pandemic.

Colaiacovo's name seems to have been linked with the Leafs for a generation already. But, when he broke a scoring drought Saturday that went back to Dec. 16, it was just his 36th game since being drafted in 2001. He came with sterling credentials and the Leafs predicted great things. Instead, he has taken a walk on the weird side. In 2005, he was sidelined when a teammate fired a puck off his ankle. He missed time after being struck by a puck to the ear. He was knocked out of last season with a concussion. This past September, he departed Day 1 of camp and staggered to the dressing room. The wooziness cleared. He joined the Marlies where he proceeded to injure a wrist blocking a shot.

"Obviously, you wish things would be different," Colaiacovo said. "But, I'm still fortunate to be where I am. I'm getting a chance to continue doing what I love. Everybody has hard times; like some days a used car salesman sells a car and some months he doesn't. You just have to keep working."

The difference is a salesman only has to listen to his wife or boss bitch -- an athlete hears it from fans, friends and every time he turns on the car radio. Antropov is the only Leaf who gets cheered every time the ACC announcer names him as a pre-game scratch.

"What are you going to do?" Antropov said. "It probably bothered me the first couple years if something like that happens. But I know what it's like to play (in Toronto). (The fans) don't know everything that's happening in here. If they decide to (cheer his absence) that's up to them.

"The people here who understand," he said, motioning to the dressing room, "know what's happening. The ones who read the papers and watch TV, they can say what they want."

He's not bitter. But the frustration is palatable. Since being the Leafs' No. 1 pick in 1998, he has had surgeries on both knees, undergone a shoulder operation, fractured a bone in his foot and suffered a lengthy list of strains, sprains and pulls.

"It's tough," he said. "You always look back and say: 'Why did this happen?' "

It's not that he doesn't do the right things. He's early to practice, and yesterday, after an off-ice workout, the only guys he didn't beat out of the rink were the rats.

People, he says, don't even ask anymore why he's not playing. They just assume he's hurt. This year it happened when he stepped in a rut during practice. He has missed 14 games since; just when it seemed he would start fulfilling expectations, scoring five goals and six assists in 18 games on the Leafs' top line.

"I don't know why these things keep happening," he said. "I don't think there is an answer to it. I've always been in good condition. I was playing good. Then one day the ice wasn't good and, there's 25 players on the ice, and I'm the one who skates over that thing. Until then, everything was going good."

So, what has to happen to make this a good season for the Bop-sy Twins?

"I don't suppose," Antropov said, wearing a half-hearted grin, "that we could just start over."

So, that's one good thing. At least he hasn't hurt his funny bone. Yet.


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