From minor hockey teammates to donning the blue and white on the Toronto Maple Leafs together with a shared silver medal at the World Junior Championship in between, Carlo Colaiacovo and Matt Stajan have come a long way together.
The Mississauga Senator graduates joined the GTHL’s Instagram Live series on April 22, happy to walk down memory lane. Colaiacovo, who represented Team Canada twice on the U-20 stage in 2002 and 2003, went first, discussing what he described as the most incredible memory of his hockey career.
“It’s one of the things I’m most proud,” the Toronto native, who also led the 2003 tournament in scoring as a defenceman, offered. “[The pandemic] has allowed me to go back and relive those moments. I had the great opportunity to do it twice and the fact that we got to do it together is the best thing that we’ll always share.”
Before any medals or NHL contracts, though, it was always about having fun.
“We played hockey for fun,” Colaiacovo shared. “We never really had these dreams and intentions of actually living out a career the way we did – playing on NHL teams together, playing in the minors together, living on an island in St. John’s together – but we did.”
Reflecting on where the road began isn’t a new practice for the pair as both Colaiacovo and Stajan are familiar with giving back to their roots.
“The game has given us so much and helping kids that are now in the GTHL or minor hockey – wherever they are – when you get to the top level, you can make even more of an impact,” Stajan, a member of the NHL’s 1000-games played club, said. “You never lose sight of where you came from. It’s easy when you get asked to do stuff, when you volunteer to go help people who helped you as a young kid – it’s just so easy to do.”
An easy lesson that can be attributed to pillars instilled early on — for Colaiacovo, it was simply about balancing doing what you love.
“At a minor hockey league level, you’re just enjoying playing hockey when you’re on the ice and away from the game, [we] have had tons of fun doing other things and I think that’s important too,” he explained. “It’s not just about doing what you love to do playing the game of hockey, it’s about doing what you love to do that keeps you athletic. Hockey was the last thing on my mind in the summer.”
While for Stajan, it was all about arriving on your own time.
“I remember going to watch [Colaiacovo in junior] when we were still playing midget hockey – going back to play midget hockey was probably the best thing I did,” the Mississauga native said. “A lot of kids are in such a rush to escalate their careers so quickly but it’s not for everybody. Playing midget hockey was one of the most important years of my career just to gain that confidence and help me grow into myself.”
The longtime friends also touched on challenges had more recently with both returning to the theme of support and giving back in the process of healing.
“Me and my wife experienced our first-born son pass away after he was born,” Stajan said. “We were very opened about it. We started a charity that if you want to donate to, Emerson Stajan Foundation, it goes to a great cause. We all have our own journey and you become attached to your personal experiences. You want to help people who are also going through them. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
For Colaiacovo, #LeoStrong has been a sense of strength for many.
— Carlo Colaiacovo (@CarloColaiacovo) April 10, 2021
“Just over two years ago, we ended up finding out our son was diagnosed with A.L. Leukemia,” he shared, adding that his son Leo has had a positive outlook through the whole process. “We found the best way to get through it, was to be open and honest and let the world know that we were going to be strong.”
“I think the best approach we’ve taken is to live every day to the fullest, appreciate everything around you and be as positive as you can because positive reinforcement is a great thing to live with,” Colaiacovo added.
The pair then added a final word of advice each before signing off:
“I just want to say to all the kids, the number one thing is you have to believe in yourself if you want to do anything special,” Stajan offered. “The support team is there and they’ll help you but it’s got to come from within.”
“You don’t get to where you want to get without sacrifice,” Colaiacovo concluded. “You don’t achieve anything without sacrifice. Nothing in life comes easy – it’s all about how bad you want it.”
Click here to watch the full interview.