Man up, Carlo

TERRY KOSHAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

Get rid of the injury-prone bum, and the sooner the better.

Carlo Colaiacovo knows that's one sentiment among Maple Leafs fans, but the 25-year-old defenceman doesn't really care.

"I am coming back a new man, that's all I can say," Colaiacovo told a group of reporters yesterday at Lakeshore Lions Arena. "I'm going to work my rear end off and if it's this season, great, hopefully we can be a part of something special, but if not, if it's next season, then I come back a new man."

Colaiacovo, who has been hurt enough in the past six years that he could be reading from a prepared text with interchangeable injury locations and dates, will miss up to six weeks with two small tears in his left groin. Colaiacovo has studied the play against the New York Islanders when he was hurt and acknowledged he has no idea what happened.

"All I know is when I hit the ice I could not get up (after colliding with the Islanders' Sean Bergenheim)," Colaiacovo said. "I knew there was something wrong right away. I have looked at the replay many times and I still can't figure it out."

Never mind Colaiacovo, there will be no fresh legs for the Leafs tonight when they take on the Sabres at HSBC Arena in Buffalo. Captain Mats Sundin, out with a small groin tear, rode an exercise bike yesterday but did not skate. Nik Antropov skated briefly, but his knee injury will keep him in civilian clothes through the weekend. Forward Boyd Devereaux practised with his teammates for the first time since suffering a knee injury against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Feb. 21, and said the earliest he would return might be tomorrow night in Ottawa against the Senators.

The status of Sundin, of course, is crucial to the Leafs' pipe dream of securing a playoff berth.

"I am not optimistic he is going to be in this weekend," coach Paul Maurice said. "It's not improving as quickly as we had hoped."

Maurice later said during an interview on the Fan 590 that he does expect Sundin to play again this season, even though the Leafs have only eight games left.

Colaiacovo won't need surgery. If it's a body part, chances are good Colaiacovo, who will be replaced in the lineup by call-up Staffan Kronwall, has had it wrapped in a bandage or protected by a cast. How to avoid it? Maurice thinks he has the answer.

"I don't think he has ever hit the ground running here after training for three months like a pro athlete," Maurice said. "He needs that in the summer, where he can prepare properly."

The Leafs expect that Colaiacovo, who will be paid $1.4 million US in each of the next two seasons, will be a productive NHL player. Colaiacovo has played in just 101 games in five seasons for the Leafs.

"It's not like he has a chronic problem, where it's always a bad knee or shoulder," general manager Cliff Fletcher said. "There's not a pattern of breaking down. (But) for all intents and purposes, he is shut down (for the season)."

Colaiacovo acknowledged he looks in the mirror and wonders.

"Too many times," Colaiacovo said. "But I am not going to sit here and feel sorry for myself. Getting through things like this continues to keep me mentally strong. My love for the game will never change. I think that is what is going to keep me motivated and get me back as soon as I can."


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