HF’s Interview with Carlo Colaiacovo

By Doug Evinou

In the past 14 months, hockey has taken Carlo Colaiacovo a great many places, and given him memories that will stay with him for the rest of his lifetime. The resume he has compiled in the last year is both impressive and extensive. He has represented his country twice, once on home soil, at the penultimate junior hockey tournament in the world, and came within minutes of winning gold both times. His junior team, the Erie Otters, won an OHL championship in April, and then participated in the Memorial Cup, the Indy 500 of Canadian junior hockey, in May. In September, he attended his first professional camp, in his hometown of Toronto no less, and stayed and stayed and stayed while others his age were sent back to junior or the minors, until he was the last one of his ilk left, and the Maple Leafs front office offered the then 19 year-old a lucrative multi-year contract. On October 23rd, 2002, Colaiacovo made his NHL debut against the Florida Panthers in front of family and friends in Toronto, and promptly delivered an assist on what was the tying goal in the game. He is currently finishing up a highly successful OHL career in Erie, a small city on the south shore of Lake Erie that he considers, “a second home”.

His stay in Toronto was a productive learning experience, and Colaiacovo has returned to the Otters with a hunger to improve his game each and every day. He recently tied his own Erie franchise record for goals in a season by a defenseman with his 13th of the year. What makes the mark most impressive is that he did it in half the number of games (29) that it took him last year. Colaiacovo’s improved game was evident in Halifax, where he starred for Canada at the recent World Junior tournament, and was named to the tournament all-star team after recording 10 points in 6 games. While the gaudy offensive numbers usually garner him the most attention, Colaiacovo is just as productive on the defensive side of things, as was evidenced when he was named the 2001 Top Defensive Defenseman for the OHL’s West Conference.

Colaiacovo’s game is built on the solid foundation of his spectacular skating skills, which he uses to jump into the rush at just the right time to create scoring opportunities. He is an adept passer and has the patience and poise to be considered a future quarterback catalyst for the Maple Leafs’ power play unit. When scouts are asked what areas Colaiacovo needs to work on, the answer is consistently and only that he could improve his upper body strength to help him battle opposition forwards in front of his own net. Considering the young man has just turned 20, it is reasonable to expect that this deficiency will be rectified in due time. Colaiacovo is aware of the problem himself and thinks that, “with maturity and as I get older that will all come because I’m willing to work hard and get to that point”.

While Colaiacovo is blessed with rare talents and abilities as a hockey player, it is his work ethic and focus that allows him to succeed on such a consistent basis. He is excited about his future, but knows that any future success he will enjoy will be built on the things he accomplishes in the here and now.

“Obviously I’m going to continue to work hard and try to get to that point, but you don’t want to look too far ahead. I just want to focus on the task at hand. Right now, my task at hand is helping a struggling Erie team make the play-offs. That’s my focus right now.”

Hockeysfuture.com recently had the opportunity to speak to Carlo Colaiacovo about his experiences this year.

HockeysFuture: What did you learn in the two months you spent with the Maple Leafs?

Carlo Colaiacovo: I learned a lot from my experience there. What I’ve got to do to prepare myself for the next level, how to prepare myself for each game. The confidence that I gained there definitely helped me out in Erie. I feel good about myself again and my game and I just want to continue getting better every game.

HF: Did the Leafs give you any indication of the things they’d like to see you work on while in Erie?

CC: Obviously, my upper body strength is a big thing I have to work on. I think with maturity and as I get older that will all come because I’m willing to work hard and get to that point. Basically they just wanted me to play a lot and develop the way I should and help my team out the best that I can.

HF: If you look at the standings right now, Erie’s not where you want them to be. What have been some of the problems the team has had this year?

CC: There have been a lot of ups and downs here which is unfortunate because we believe we have a good enough team to be a dangerous play-off team but we’ve been going through a rough time the past couple of months but there’s still life for us. Right now, that’s all we’re focused on: taking things one game at a time and try to make the best of it and go from there.

HF: The Otters are only a few points back of Guelph and the Soo Greyhounds. What are the things the team is going to have to concentrate improving on?

CC: I don’t think we’ve all been on the same page as of late. This week, practice has been good, lots of life, the mood has been good out there which is a good sign heading into a week-end. We’ve got three big games against division teams, especially London, a huge game at home that we’ve got to take advantage of. Basically, one step at a time. We’ve got a game in hand on the Soo who are a few points up on us. We’re going to need help from other teams as well, but we can only control what we do on the ice.

HF: Regardless of what happens down the stretch, this is probably going to be your last season in Erie. What have you taken away from the four years you’ve spent there?

CC: It’s been an absolutely wonderful 4 years of my life. I kind of consider it a second home. Since the time I came here the town has welcomed me with open arms. The fans here are unbelievable. The organization itself is a high class organization, one that I’ve definitely proud to graduate from. Memories will always be there. I’ve been fortunate enough to win a championship here with a great team. The coaching staff who’s helped me out for four years; helped me get to where I want to be.

HF: One of the highlights last year during the play-offs was the series against London, and the match-up between you and Rick Nash was pretty exciting to watch. Who have been some of the players you’ve enjoyed playing against or have been a challenge to play against in your OHL career?

CC: Like you said, Rick Nash was probably the most talented player I’ve played against, with him going first overall. He was a dominant force out there and a tough player to play against. You can even go down the list since my second year playing against the opposing team’s top lines. I take pride in that. In doing that, it helped me get better as a player and helped me be where I am today. You know, four years went by so quickly, and there’s been many great players I’ve played against, and that’s whats helped me get to where I am today.

HF: If we could switch gears now, and talk about the WJC for a few moments. This was your second time playing for Canada at the tournament, but the first time playing on home soil. What was it like playing in front of the home crowd?

CC: I have a picture here of me at the tournament after the 3rd goal, the winning goal against the U.S. It’s a picture of me celebrating and you can see the crowd in the background. I think that picture describes it all. To represent your country is one thing but to do it in front of your home crowd is something unbelievable and is something I”ll never forget. I was fortunate enough to win a championship in Erie with 6000 crazy fans behind us, and that was something to remember itself, but to be one of the few to represent your country for the 2nd time was just unbelievable.

HF: The two years you participated you had the experience of playing for two different coaches in Marc Habscheid and Stan Butler. What was that like?

CC: Both of them are great coaches. Coach Habscheid was more of a laid back guy, he liked to have fun, and Coach Butler was a character himself. He was a great coach, and a great guy off the ice. You know, I think that’s the beauty of going to tournaments like that; being surrounded by great people and great players, to be recognized as one of them is something I’m proud of.

HF: As a player, how much would you know about the other teams going into the games?

CC: I had a year of experience under my belt so I was kind of familiar with some of the players on the other teams, so that was to my advantage having played in the tournament before. Most guys don’t even get one chance, so I was fortunate enough to get two. It was unfortunate that both times we came up short. To have two cracks at gold and have to settle for silver both times is hard to swallow but when you look back we earned the medals we got and I think its something to be proud of.

HF: Down the road in your career, would you like a chance to get to wear a Canadian jersey again?

CC: Absolutely. Every Canadian kid grows up dreaming of wearing the logo and making his country proud. I’d love to do it again one day. Obviously I’m going to continue to work hard and try to get to that point, but you don’t want to look too far ahead. I just want to focus on the task at hand. Right now, my task at hand is helping a struggling Erie team make the play-offs. That’s my focus right now.

HF: A lot was made of the number of Leafs prospects that were on the roster. Was that a fun experience?

CC: Oh yeah. We actually had a great time with the Canadian players that were drafted by the Leafs. I’ve seen those guys through many camps that we’ve shared together. Being part of the Leafs you know each other well, and get to come closer together. I was roommates with Matt Stajan in Halifax; he was a guy I grew up playing with. A guy like Brad Boyes, I’ve played 3 years of my junior career with. I think I’m pretty fortunate to share the dream of playing for the Maple Leafs with those guys.

HF: With the March 11th trade deadline fast approaching, and the Maple Leafs rumored to be in a buying mode, it must be tough to hear your name and the name of the young players you’ve become friends with constantly mentioned?

CC: The only thing I can say about that is its out of my hands. I can’t control anything that happens. All I can control is who I’m playing for right now. You know, right now I’m proud to be a Maple Leaf. Hopefully it’ll stay that way, but who knows what’ll happen come deadline.

HF: Are you hoping to be in Toronto next October?

CC: Absolutely. It’s every kids dream to play in the NHL. I had a sniff at it this year. That’s where I want to be. It’s going to take a lot of hard work over the summer, which is something I’m preparing myself for. Going into camp and taking it one step at a time like I did this year. I’m going to give it all I’ve got and see what happens.