Steve Downie, seen with Tampa Bay on Feb. 3, is suspended until late in the AHL season. ((Bruce Bennett/Getty Images))

The American Hockey League handed out a 20-game suspension on Thursday to Norfolk Admirals forward Steve Downie for slashing an official in a recent game.

Downie was suspended for slashing linesman Mike Hamilton in the leg near the faceoff circle late in Saturday's game with the Hershey Bears.

Such contact with an official carries an automatic 20-game ban, but the league was reviewing tape of the incident as Norfolk claimed that Downie was attempting to take a whack at a Hershey player's stick and missed, accidentally clipping Hamilton. 

The Tampa Bay Lightning, who acquired Downie in a trade last November, issued a release Tuesday saying they support the Admirals in appealing Downie's suspension.

"To clarify public reports, the player struck the official [during the course of play] with the follow through of his stick after winning a face-off against Hershey's Andrew Joudrey," the release said.

Downie, 21, has served three games of the suspension already and will be eligible to return to action on April 11, just before the end of the regular season.

The Newmarket, Ont., native has nine goals and 24 assists in 26 AHL games this season. He has also played 29 games in the NHL, scoring six points.

He was traded by the Philadelphia Flyers to the Tampa Bay Lightning in November.

It is the third suspension of some length in just over three seasons for Downie, each handed out in different leagues.

Before ever playing a regular season NHL game, he was given a 20-game penalty while a member of the Flyers for leaving his feet and launching an elbow to the head of Ottawa forward Dean McAmmond in a 2007 pre-season game.

Downie was suspended for five games in the Ontario Hockey League early in the 2005-06 season for his role in a fight and hazing incident involving a Windsor Spitfires teammate.