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Canadian Press
Dec 12, 2006, 1:37 PM EST


TORONTO (CP) - When Maple Leafs head coach Paul Maurice went up to Carlo Colaiacovo after Tuesday's morning skate and told him he was playing against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Toronto defenceman could barely contain his excitement.

"Yeah, after the skate he told me I'm playing hockey again, I'm a hockey player again," the 23-year-old told reporters with a wide grin on his face. It will be his first NHL game since last January, when he suffered a serious concussion in a game against the Ottawa Senators.

"It's been too long," Colaiacovo said. "I wouldn't say worth the wait but I'm definitely ready. ...

"It's good, I'm really happy about it," he added. "I'm going to take it slow, take it one step at a time, hopefully get a win tonight."

The Leafs carry a seven-game winless streak (0-6-1) into Tuesday night's game at Air Canada Centre. Colaiacovo takes Brenden Bell's spot in the lineup.

"I'm not expecting him to go coast-to-coast here tonight," said Maurice. "I'd like him to move the puck quickly, finish his checks from the upright position and get a good feel."

Maurice's crack about checking from the "upright position" referred to Colaiacovo's wild hit on former Senators forward Vaclav Varada in a Jan. 23 game that left Colaiacovo with the concussion after he slammed head-first into the boards and was carried out on a stretcher.

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He had a decent hit. Nearly did that thing that got him a concussion last year, but he eventually straighted things out and threw a nice hit on Karlsson in front of the bench.

I think he'll be a good help.
 
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