Carlo Colaiacovo insists he’s a new man.
He is fit, fresh, and optimistic. Summer has brought distance between Colaiacovo and a desultory campaign in which he missed the Leafs first 37 games with a knee injury, then nine with a bruised knee and the final eight with a torn groin muscle.
“I’m out to be a new man,” said the 25-year-old defenceman. “I want to play every game and play well.”
Injuries have limited Colaiacovo to just 101 games over four seasons. But when he has played, he has been effective. Colaiacovo won’t be a big scorer, but he is big, fast and smart enough with the puck. He has an edge to his game. Former Leafs coach Paul Maurice often insisted Colaiacovo had the talent to be a top-four NHL defenceman.
A Toronto native, Colaiacovo lives here year round. Everywhere he goes, Leaf fans ask him about the team – and his lengthy list of injuries.
“The injuries aren’t something I enjoy talking about, but it’s within my control to prove the naysayers wrong and give people something positive to say about me,” he said. “ On the whole, I’ve had great support from people. You find out fast who your friends are in this town. Now I’m out to show who Carlo really is.”
Central to that idea is a mended body.
“The groin is fine, the real issue is the knee,” he said. “It was a battle last year to get the knee to do the things I wanted it to. Now I skate and I remember the feeling that came when I was skating my fastest.
Colaiacovo concedes that in retrospect, coming back when he did from the knee injury might not have been the best idea. “For me, it was a pride thing. I wanted to play hockey so damned bad, I was willing to do anything to get back in the lineup. I really felt I could help the club.”
As for next year, Colaiacovo has heard the naysayer in his travels around town. He isn’t so sure.
“There have been so many changes with Darcy and Razor leaving and Jamal Mayers and Ryan Hollweg and Niklas Hagman coming to our team. We see the direction the team is going with young players and enthusiasm. We’ve got a coach in Ron Wilson who has a great track record working with young players. I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people with how well we play."
Certainly, the defence will have a new look behind incumbent one-two punch Pavel Kubina and Tomas Kaberle. There has been much talk that Bryan McCabe won’t be with the club by opening night. Free agent Jeff Finger
has been signed as a shutdown guy and the Leafs continue to work out the signing of Swede Jonas Frogren. Leafs management and NHL officials have disagreed on the kind of contract Frogren should sign but it’s believed the snafu will not scuttle his signing with the Leafs.
The Maple Leafs see Frogren as a top six rearguard. Add talented sophomore Anton Stralman as well as Colaiacovo and Ian White to the mix and you have a revamped defence that should be much more to the liking of Wilson and his assistant coaches Rob Zettler, Tim Hunter and Keith Acton.