Mike Ulmer has worked for seven news organizations including the National Post and, most recently, the Toronto Sun. Mike has written about the Leafs for 10 years and wrote Captains, a book about the club's greatest leaders.
(TORONTO) -- Carlo Colaiacovo has played 67 NHL games.
Ian White has appeared in 81.
These are two of the six blue line keepers of the Maple Leafs' playoff hopes.
When the Leafs host the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday in the latest of a series of must-win games, the Leafs will rely on a host of greenhorns, 23-year-old Matt Stajan and Alex Steen and Kyle Wellwood for openers.
But with seven games left, White, just 22, and Colaiacovo, 24, are working along the blue fault line. Colaiacovo, paired with Bryan McCabe, is seeing time against the opposition's top units. White, paired with towering Hal Gill, isn't far behind.
"I still think it's 150-200 games before you know what you're going to have with a defenceman," said Leafs coach Paul Maurice. "I'm still excited about the upside of both of them."
Colaiacovo has weathered a seemingly unending string of injuries to earn full-time work in Toronto. His season was ended last January by the most recent in a series of head injuries. The Leafs first choice, (17th overall) in the 2001 entry draft, is now playing with enormous confidence. He has scored six goals, added eight assists and sits at a heady plus-10.
"I think that I've come a long way, considering everything I've been through in my career," Colaiacovo said. "Getting to play with a guy like Bryan McCabe, watching Tommy (Kaberle) and Pavel (Kubina) bring their best every night and looking up to guys like Mats, it's great just to feel part of that group."
"Carlo is starting to find the right holes," explained Maurice. "Early this year, he was a guy who felt he was an offensive player and he had to play that way but in this league as an offensive defenceman you have to pick your spots. We're starting to see that so well with Carlo."
White, meanwhile, is emblematic of the smaller, faster player the game has allowed through its doors. Generously listed at 5-foot-10, he is exceptionally quick. The 6-foot-7 Gill has a reach that about extends from board to board, but it falls to the nimble White to skate the puck out of harm's way.
"He's been steady," said Gill. "As a young player, it's easy to be too streaky, but he's been very steady defensively."
White has three goals, 26 assists and 29 points but probably more importantly, he is a plus-six.
The trick to this job, said the Winnipeg native, is to approach every work day like a school day.
"I think the growth is exponential. If you're going from game 450 to 500, you're not going to learn as much in games zero to 50 or 50 to 100. It's just a great learning curve."
White says he has learned that pros make mistakes like everyone else. What they do better, is deal with them.
"Everyone makes mistakes, whether you're a first year guy or a 10-year-guy, everyone screws up in a game," he said. "Sometimes it costs you and sometimes it doesn't. Part of recovering from that is emotionally not getting too high or too low staying on an even keel. That's part of being a pro."
The two are different in one area. Colaiacovo grew up in Toronto. He understands the madness that accompanies any Maple Leafs trip to the post-season.
"I grew up watching the Leafs playing in the playoffs," he said. " I'm getting a taste of being with the team and I'm living my dream. Now I want to get that taste of playing for the Leafs in the playoffs. We're so close right now. I just want to give everything to help us get there."