Jiri Tlusty's professional career almost ended before it started.
Sent flying in the first period after a dangerous open-ice hip-on-knee check, the Maple Leafs' top draft choice this summer evened the score in the second period with a nifty power-play goal to help the Marlies cruise to a 6-0 victory in their American Hockey League season opener against the Syracuse Crunch.
Tlusty raced into the open ice at the Crunch blue line and received a perfect pass from defenceman Dominic D'Amour. His quick snap shot easily beat Tomas Popperle low to the stick side to give the Marlies a 3-0 lead at the 5:14 mark.
"That's Jiri, if he gets the puck inside the box he's golden," Marlies head coach Greg Gilbert said of Tlusty. "He's got that great ability to find that hole and finish plays off. He's gifted offensively."
Tlusty was sent flying late in the first period when his legs were cut from under him by Syracuse's Andy Canzanello.
The Marlies didn't let the hit go unpunished. Toronto's Tyson Marsh skated over to Canzanello and after a brief tussle dropped him to the ice with a right hand.
"He almost had his knee taken out on that one hit," Gilbert said. "You never want to put yourself in a position to even have an (opposing) player attempt a shot like that. But he got up after that, he was fine and fortunately there was no injury."
All in all it was a pretty fair debut by Tlusty, an 18-year-old left winger, and the Marlies, who out-skated and out-worked the Crunch.
"The guys put in a lot of hard work up to this point to get off to a start like that," Gilbert said. "Syracuse is a tough team to play against. But we did a really good job tonight. The work ethic, they were rewarded for it."
D'Amour, Owen Fussey, Kris Newbury, Erik Westrum and Brett Engelhardt also scored for Toronto.
The Marlies outshot the Crunch 10-3 in the first period, held a huge advantage in puck possession and didn't allow Syracuse a single scoring opportunity.
Justin Pogge, the Leafs' top draft choice in 2004, watched his first pro game from the bench as Gilbert elected to open with veteran J.F. Racine.
It wasn't the hardest shutout of Racine's career. He faced just 10 shots through the opening two periods and 20 overall.
The Marlies play host to Manitoba this afternoon.