Money in Labanc

“The Banker” Continues To Be Counted On To Help The Sharks Cash In

For all the acclaim that the San Jose Sharks have received over the years as a model of consistency, their lack of success come playoff time often dominates the conversation.

 

The team is a regular challenger for the Pacific Division crown, boasting a strong team filled with a nucleus of veteran stalwarts with an infusion of skilled youngsters. And while they’ve made the playoffs in 19 of the past 21 seasons, the Sharks have never won the Stanley Cup, reaching the finals only once, in 2016 when they lost to Pittsburgh.

 

The Washington Capitals had a similar label attached to them up until last spring, when they decimated their playoffs demons and won the Stanley Cup. The Sharks were hoping to follow suit during these Stanley Cup playoffs until they ran into the Vegas Golden Knights. Down 3 games to 1 as the series shifts back to the Shark Tank, the team has its work cut out for them if they’re hoping to extend their season.

 

San Jose forward Kevin Labanc thinks the team has what it takes to rally against growing odds.

 

“We know that we can get there. It’s just a matter of small little details in our play that we have to really bare down on,” Labanc said. “It can’t just be at 80 percent hockey, we have to be at 100 percent every single shift and every single game. I think everybody is going to have that mindset.”

Labanc scored his first goal of the postseason on the road in Game 3. However, Vegas won 6-3.Labanc scored his first goal of the postseason on the road in Game 3. However, Vegas won 6-3.

 

The Sharks swam into the big fish market just prior to the start of this season, acquiring defenseman Erik Karlsson in a trade with Ottawa. But most of the team’s success has come from established stars who have enjoyed career years, including Brent Burns with 83 points, Tomas Hertl’s 74 and Logan Couture, who notched 70.

 

Then there’s Labanc, whose 56 points were also a career-high as he wraps up the final year of his entry level contract. Labanc has been on a tear since Jan. 8, his 32 points tied for third on the team. His 3.57 points per 60 minutes played is tied with Florida’s Aleksander Barkov for 11th in the league.

 

“I feel really good about my play,” the Brooklyn, N.Y., native said just before the start of the playoffs.

 

“I feel like I’m at a high right now, not just about my point production but also because I’ve been playing well defensively and that’s what this team needs if we’re going to go far in the playoffs. So, I want to continue with this momentum and keep it going.”

 

Labanc’s made solid strides in his game as his NHL career continues to evolve. He has repaid the coaches confidence for his increased ice time and role on the team’s second power play unit with his steady play and offensive contributions. He has a sneaky good shot and has a knack for getting into the right spots to utilize it.

 

It’s not hard to envision developing into a solid pro when you’re surrounded daily by superstar forwards such as Joe Pavelski, a native of Plover, Wis., and future Hall of Famer Joe Thornton.

 

“You’re around guys like that, who have been in the league for so long and have made such an impact on the game. Watch them and take in everything that you learn from them,” Labanc said. 

 

“They come to the rink every day and they work and it’s no surprise that they have the type of career that they have because of all the time and all the effort they put into being the player that they are today and that’s why they’re so successful. I try and take bits of their game and incorporate it into mine.”

Lebanc's sensational second half placed him among some of the game's premier players when looking at points scored per 60 minutes on the ice. (From Jan. 8 to the end of the regular season)Lebanc's sensational second half placed him among some of the game's premier players when looking at points scored per 60 minutes on the ice. (From Jan. 8 to the end of the regular season)

 

It's all part of the learning process for Labanc, who played his youth hockey in the Garden State, first with the New Jersey Colonials and then with New Jersey Rockets before heading to USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program from 2011-13. His experience in Ann Arbor, Mich., provided a blueprint for what it takes to reach the next level.

 

“That was an unbelievable experience for me. I was a bit of a late bloomer,” Labanc recalled. “I wasn’t really playing much when I was there. But one thing that I always did when I was there was I gave it my all, every practice, every game I made sure I was going to be the hardest worker. 

 

“It was a great experience, just the comradery you build with the guys, it’s awesome. The professionalism at that rink is second-to-none. Your day is always full. 

 

“It’s a great honor representing your country and in international tournaments. It was a great experience, you just go to the rink and have your whole day planned out. You have so many people working with you. There’s no other organization like it.”

 

After playing three seasons with the Barrie Colts in the Ontario Hockey League, Labanc left for the Sharks and hasn’t looked back. He made his NHL debut in 2016, but has spent a good amount of time as a member of the San Jose Barracuda.

 

The Sharks are one of two franchises, Winnipeg is the other, to share a rink with their AHL affiliate. Labanc sees the benefits in terms of minimizing distractions, travel and allowing players to just play and make an impact.

 

“You just hear stories about guys getting called-up for one day. They travel like five hours just to show up for warmups. They have to go back, and then they get called up again,” he said. 

 

“I think it’s just less stress on your body and mentally too. It’s hard to prepare for a game when you’re still on the plane. It’s a really good move I think and it’s really big because all the AHL players can come to the rink and see the Sharks and see the way we play. It’s really good and I think it benefits the organization a lot through the youth.”

Can Lebanc (second from right) and the Sharks add a Stanley Cup banner to the rafters at the SAP Center? They'd have to overcome a 3-1 series deficit to Vegas to emerge from the first round and have a chance. Game 5 takes place in California on Thursday.Can Lebanc (second from right) and the Sharks add a Stanley Cup banner to the rafters at the SAP Center? They'd have to overcome a 3-1 series deficit to Vegas to emerge from the first round and have a chance. Game 5 takes place in California on Thursday.

 

After a solid showing during the regular season and now in his second postseason, Labanc is banking on sticking around with the NHL club for many years to come.

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