Tlusty finally settling in

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:46 AM ET

If locating the nearest Tim Horton's was the most difficult task in Jiri Tlusty's quest to learn Canadian culture, he'd be having a grand ol' time right now.

Unfortunately for the young Czech forward, his first season in North America hasn't been anywhere that easy.

Since being drafted 13th overall by the Maple Leafs last summer, Tlusty, 18, has undergone baptism by fire.

Starting out the season with the American Hockey League's Marlies, Tlusty soon was shipped to the Ontario Hockey League's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in order to receive more playing time.

Having notched 10 points in his first 13 games with the Soo, he was just finding his niche when a high ankle sprain Nov. 22 caused him to miss 18 games and cost him a chance to compete for the Czech Republic at the world junior championships in Sweden.

Enter fellow Czech Tomas Kaberle, who saw Tlusty rehabbing in Toronto and offered support to a kid who was battling more than his share of adversity in this new land.

"Tomas took me out to dinner a couple of times and told me almost every day to let him know if I needed anything," Tlusty said yesterday from the Soo. "His home town (Kladno) is in the same area as I am from so I'm very familiar with him. He was very nice to me and I'm thankful.

"It has been hard. To be out two months and to miss the (world juniors) which I was looking forward to, well, it's been tough.

"Right now my goal is to help get this team to the playoffs."

Tlusty has registered four points in five games since returning to the Greyhounds lineup on Jan. 19.

"I was tired the first game back, but it's getting better," he said. "I think I'll be 100% by next week.

"I've really enjoyed it here. The (Soo) fans are great and I've been playing 20-25 minutes per game. The rinks here are smaller, but I like that. You have to finish your checks."


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