Sharks’ Labanc facing possible suspension for slew-foot of Blues’ Bozak

Sharks forward Kevin Labanc will have a hearing today with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety today for what the league called a slew-foot of St. Louis Blues center Tyler Bozak from the night before.

In the first period of Thursday’s game at Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Bozak was chasing after a loose puck along the boards inside the Sharks’ zone to the left of goalie James Reimer. Labanc followed and nudged his right shoulder and his stick ahead of Bozak’s body as they closed in on the puck.

Labanc’s right leg was also positioned behind Bozak and when Labanc fell backward, intentionally or not, it caused Bozak to fall awkwardly into the boards.

Bozak remained on the ice momentarily but then got up and angrily went after Labanc, who was given a tripping penalty a the 8:59 mark of the first period. The Blues’ Brandon Saad scored on the ensuing power play, and St. Louis would go on to beat the Sharks 4-1.

Labanc said he was not purposely trying to take Bozak’s legs out from under him.

“I think it was just a fast play,” Labanc said after the game. “I was just trying to go in and beat him to the puck and I think (Bozak) leaned on me and then we’re trying to create a battle and then we kind of ran into each other and I went down.

“It wasn’t anything intentional. I didn’t look at the replay of it, but I think just trying to battle hard and create a battle in the corner.”

Bozak finished the game but had a season-low 8:45 of ice time.

Under NHL Rule 52, slew-footing is defined as the act of a player “using his leg or foot to knock or kick an opponent’s feet from under him or pushes an opponent’s upper body backward with an arm or elbow, and at the same time with a forward motion of his leg, knocks or kicks the opponent’s feet from under him, causing him to fall violently to the ice.”

Any player guilty of slew-footing shall be assessed a match penalty, according to the rule, which adds that although there are no specified fines or suspensions for slew-footing, supplementary discipline can be applied by the NHL commissioner at his discretion.

Labanc, 25, has two goals and two assists in 11 games this season, his sixth in the NHL with the Sharks. He missed five games earlier this month after he was in the NHL’s COVID protocol and could not travel with the Sharks to Calgary and Winnipeg because of Canada’s travel restrictions for people who have recently tested positive for the coronavirus.

Labanc is averaging 14:50 of ice time per game this season. He was moved from the third line to the fourth line before the Sharks’ game with the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday and remained on that line with Jasper Weatherby and Jonah Gadjovich for Thursday’s game.

If Labanc is suspended for Saturday’s home game against the Washington Capitals, it’s possible that Nick Merkley could step into that fourth-line winger role. Merkley has been a healthy scratch the last two games.

Please check back for updates to this developing story.

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