Carlo enters with clear mind

STEVE BUFFERY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:22 AM ET

An odd sensation has come over Maple Leafs defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo during informal workouts at Lakeshore Lions Arena the past few days.

No, the once-hot prospect isn't hurt again. It's the complete opposite. For the first time in years, Colaiacovo, 25, feels completely healthy, with little discomfort or pain anywhere on his usually battered body.

"I feel better than ever right now," the Toronto native said yesterday, following a two-hour skate with a group of teammates. "It has been a really, really long time since I've felt this good, clear-minded and really focused on having a great year. And that's all I'm focused on."

"I worked extremely hard this summer off the ice to get myself to where I need to be and get my body at 100% -- at a place where it hasn't been in a long time."

The Leafs' first-round draft choice (17th overall) in 2001, Colaiacovo has shown flashes of brilliance on defence, but a confounding series of injuries has limited his play to just 101 games in six seasons.

Last season, the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder missed 54 games because of a knee injury and a torn groin. Before that, he suffered numerous physical breakdowns, including a major concussion on Jan. 23, 2006.

Colaiacovo has the reputation as a snake-bit player who is incapable of staying healthy for an entire season.

But that, he hopes, will change. And more than ever, with the club in the midst of a rebuilding phase, the Leafs will be counting on their young players, including Colaiacovo, to step up.

"I'm really going to enjoy playing hockey this year," said Colaiacovo, who is capable of playing well at both ends of the ice. "It was a really tough season I went through last year, and I really credit myself a lot for getting through what I did, and battling through it one day at a time. I'm putting that all behind me."

If he remains healthy, Colaiacovo would be considered the fourth or fifth man on the Leafs' depth chart of defenceman, behind Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina, Jeff Finger and perhaps Anton Stralman. He undoubtedly has the ability to be a top two defenceman in the NHL, if he ever stays healthy.

EARNING TIME

If he doesn't, then he could be passed on the depth chart by the likes of Mike Van Ryn, Jonas Frogren, Staffan Kronwall, Ian White, or even rookie Luke Schenn. In any event, under new coach Ron Wilson, it will be an interesting training camp.

"We have a lot of new faces and the only way you're going to get the best out of everybody is if you have that competition where guys have to be at their best every night," Colaiacovo said. "And I think we're going to see that from Day 1 at camp. I think it's going to be a good thing to have."

Colaiacovo waved aside suggestions that, given his hard luck in Toronto, he might be best served starting over somewhere else.

"No. Not at all," he said. "I'm committed to staying here, hopefully for the rest of my career. I love it here. I wouldn't want it any other way. I grew up in Toronto and haven't seen us win a Cup. And I'd like to be here when we do."


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