Leafs receive a painful lesson

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

The Maple Leafs have been described as a public trust, a four-generation fan entity that no single owner or group of suits has a right to control.

But what to do when this public trust can't trust its public? That was the painful humiliation that Jiri Tlusty endured when he circulated nude and unflattering camera phone pictures of himself to close friends, only to have them sent right around Leaf Nation and about 200 other countries via a gossip website.

The 21st century information technology boom, coupled with an insatiable appetite for all things Leaf, has put the local hockey heroes in the same lawless league as other celebrities. Just ask Alex Steen, who looked into opening a Facebook account earlier this year only to find "four or five" Alex Steens already registered.

"None of them are me, but they were answering questions as me," an amazed Steen said yesterday. "One guy even said 'I'm the real Alex Steen and I don't know who you other poseurs are'. That's why I started my own website for my charity (alexandersteen.com)."

Darcy Tucker called the advent of camera phones, mini-cams, Facebook and general Internet gizmos "a blessing, but a curse" and pitied the teenaged Tlusty for getting trapped in the latter category. Tlusty took the raunchy pictures while still a junior for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, but after the Leafs had made him the No. 1 pick in the 2006 NHL draft. He posted them as a joke with pals, but it backfired big time this week.

"You can order groceries on the net ... but here's a young guy that someone took advantage of," Tucker said. "Then everyone wants to one-up the other person (by spreading the photos and getting involved in a juicy story about a Leaf)."

Tucker said most Leafs can tolerate a certain invasion of privacy, having recognized it's the price to play hockey in the NHL's biggest market, where they can maximize endorsement money. But Tucker's style of play and his outspoken nature makes him a big target for critics and gossips and, he believes, at least one imposter.

"I've been to a lot of places, but I once talked to a guy who said 'wasn't that a great time we had at that wedding in Hamilton', " Tucker recalled. "I said 'what?' He said again 'the wedding in Hamilton'. I told him I'd never been to a wedding in Hamilton."

Tlusty was true to a statement released on his behalf by the club on Tuesday night that he would not comment further on the photos, except to say he had made a poor judgment and it would not happen again.

A few teammates and club officials shielded him from reporters yesterday at Lakeshore Lions Arena as he exited a side door to the parking lot. But in an almost comical closure to the whole affair, one Leafs fan tried to block the car he was in, trying to get an autograph. One TV station reporting the story put a blue leaf over Tlusty's privates.

Steen hoped Tlusty and all the Leafs would get to laugh about this incident some day and a few did try to relieve the tension for the kid yesterday.

"Guess I won't be taking the garbage out naked anymore," forward Wade Belak cracked.

"I'd like to think that everything I do at home, stays at home," coach Paul Maurice said. "You have a conversation with one person here (at the rink) and three others will be listening. It takes awhile to get used to it."

Others figured that if it was hard for Tlusty to tell his Leafs bosses about his indiscretions, it would've been worse breaking the news to his mother, a school teacher in the Czech Republic.

"For a man his age, he's handled it well," Maurice said of the whole business. "It was a mistake he made a year ago and now he'll have to answer for it like none of us ever will."


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