TORONTO -- Wednesday, October 23, 2002 is a date that will be etched in the mind of Carlo Colaiacovo for the rest of his life. It was on this night the Maple Leafs rookie stepped on the ice for the very first time to play an NHL game.
Head coach Pat Quinn finally gave the defenceman the nod in place of another young gun, Karel Pilar. He skated in a pairing with Bryan McCabe and it wasn't long before he tasted how tough it's been for the Leafs defensively this season, losing 4-1 to the Florida Panthers at Air Canada Centre.
Things looked bleak early for Colaiacovo.
Valeri Bure scored his first of the season at 4:09 of the first period while the rookie was trying to clear the puck from the front of the net.
Colaiacovo shook it off quickly picking up his first NHL point off Nik Antropov's goal in the second.
"Obviously it's an accomplishment (his first NHL assist)," said Colaiacovo."But, there'd be a lot more smiles if the team played well and we'd won."
| Colaiacovo is congratulated by his mates following his first NHL assist. |
Graig Abel Photography
Now had he had his way, he may have written this book a little differently. Perhaps he would have liked to start his pro career on the ice in Pittsburgh two weeks ago rather than in the press box, but Colaiacovo has remained positive and knows that Pat Quinn and his coaches are acting with his future in mind.
"They have to do what's in the best interest for the team and in the best interest of me," said Colaiacovo. "They're the coaches for a reason and they make the decisions."
Quinn has indicated that he would have liked to have gone to the youngster sooner, but poor defensive play by the forwards left the coach feeling that Colaiacovo could be exposed, something that could kill the 19-year-old's confidence.
So it appears the coach was waiting for the right opponent to skate into town to give the kid a shot and the Florida Panthers, with just 14 goals in six games, apparently were the right team.
The most impressive thing is after a whirlwind month, which saw Colaiacovo climb from being a barley known draft choice to the talk of hockey town, the young defenceman has remained poised and patient throughout.
"There's still a lot to learn about playing defence in the NHL. This was game one." he said.
Despite his grand showing in the preseason, tying for the team lead in points with six, most observers thought Colaiacovo would be best off back with the Erie Otters and that the Maple Leaf defensive core was too crowded.
His performance Wednesday night can only show that he may just belong with the big club after all. At no time did he look out of place and there was no sign of panic.
Colaiacovo's climb to this night began in the spring of 2001 when he was selected in the first round (17th overall) in the NHL Entry Draft. After the draft he returned to the Erie Otters in the OHL and totalled career highs in goals, assists and points en route to an OHL Championship.