Colaiacovo back in Leafs lineup for first time since last January

“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.”

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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.

Nearly a year later he’s finally back in the lineup.

“I’m more anxious than nervous,” said Colaiacovo. “Right now I’m just going to enjoy what I’ve got to do to get myself ready for the game tonight and feel like playing hockey again.”

Colaiacovo had six points (1-5) and four penalty minutes in five games with the AHL Marlies this season before being recalled Dec. 4.