Carlo's return close?

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:23 AM ET

Nik Antropov made 2007 his comeback year, now '08 could be No. 8's turn.

Carlo Colaiacovo emerged from the seclusion of his private workouts yesterday with cautious optimism he will return to the Maple Leafs from his right knee injury by the end of this month.

"I don't want to put too much pressure on myself," said the defenceman, who has seen so many target dates come and go with his personal medical dictionary of ailments. "I hit a bump on the road. Now I'm looking forward."

Colaiacovo has flirted with full-time employment with the Leafs for four years, dogged either by a full lineup or his penchant for injuries, which has bordered on tragi-comical. He scored in the last game of 2006-07 against the Montreal Canadiens, but was limping as he cleaned out his locker.

General manager John Ferguson first thought surgery wasn't required, but Colaiacovo eventually had arthroscopic surgery in late April. He gave the knee a hard test during the unofficial August workouts, which might have led to the renewed pain in training camp. He hasn't played a game this season.

Yet Ferguson and coach Paul Maurice never have spoken of him returning in terms anything other than a top four to six defenceman.

FEELING GOOD

"That makes me feel really good," Colaiacovo said. "I hope to be on the Florida trip (three games, beginning in a week), but I don't want to put myself in a position to fail."

As the comeback attempts mounted, Colaiacovo fell into a monotonous cycle in October and November, going to the rink early, getting treatment, going home and coming back later in the day. In the past two or three weeks he has been working with the club's power skating instructor Dawn Braid.

"Cross your finger, cross your toes, it has been a long and difficult recovery," Maurice said. "After a while, you stop asking when he'll be back."


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