February 17, 2010
Julien Sprunger is a 24-year old forward for Switzerland who plays for HC Fribourg-Gotteron in the Swiss League (National League A). A fourth-round pick by the Minnesota Wild in 2004, Sprunger almost saw his career come to an end as a result of a hit from David Backes(notes) of Team USA in last spring's World Championships. Sprunger underwent neck surgery over the summer and worked with a psychologist to be sure he wasn't hesitant on the ice going forward. Here's the video of the hit:
Sprunger told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun that he never heard from Backes after he hit. One motivation for Sprunger's return to hockey was his knowledge that Switzerland's first game in the Olympics would be the United States.
Fast-forward to Tuesday afternoon after Team USA's 3-1 win over the Swiss and Sprunger told LeBrun that during the game Backes threatened to "do it to you again if you want," reminding him of the hit from the World Championships. Backes denied the allegation and said he told Sprunger to "keep his head up when he was running around a little bit."
"I was pretty distraught that it happened the first time. You don't ever want to hurt anybody," Backes said. "It was a hard, finished check. He's a good player, and I'm glad he's back on the ice. We had a good battle today, we had a few run-ins, but I don't think I would stoop that low to dig my fingers and pour salt in the wound."
One game into the tournament for the U.S. and Backes has scored a sweet goal, similar to one he put home back in December against the Vancouver Canucks and found himself in the middle of a small controversy with a player he has history with. At the rate (Inglourious) Backes is going, the Canadians are lucky that there's no fighting in the Olympics, as Jonathan Toews(notes), Corey Perry(notes), and Rick Nash(notes), to a degree, found out.