All Dr. Phil Johnson needed was an opportunity. Then, he took care of the rest.
Johnson recently completed an illustrious career as team physician for the U.S. National Junior Team. And for his efforts and commitment to the organization — serving parts of the last three decades — USA Hockey awarded Johnson the Excellence in Safety Award, which honors individuals who go above and beyond to make hockey a safer game for all participants.
“He approached me about getting involved with USA Hockey, so I was thrilled that he had the interest,” said Dr. Michael Stuart, the 2008 recipient of the award and the chief medical and safety officer for USA Hockey. “We plugged him in as a team physician and the rest is history. He’s been such a loyal volunteer for USA Hockey.”
Johnson and Stuart are close personal friends who have a long history together.
Johnson is a 1984 graduate of the University of North Dakota’s Medical School. He completed an internship at St. Luke’s Hospital in Fargo, North Dakota, and spent five years in residency as an orthopedic surgeon at Michigan State University-Kalamazoo, serving as the chief resident during his final year.
Johnson also completed a sports medicine fellowship at the University of Western Ontario, which is when he became close friends with Stuart. Their friendship has grown since then.
“Phil has always been a huge hockey fan, and obviously a very well-respected team physician in the sport of ice hockey,” Stuart said. “Not only is he passionate about the game, but he’s also very dedicated to the health and safety of our young athletes.”
Johnson served as the team physician for the U.S. National Junior Team for the 16th and final time during the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship. That group defeated Sweden to win the bronze medal, its 14th medal in tournament play, and the sixth medal in the last eight events.
“Guys in our physician group, especially Phil, we really value their time and commitment to our players and our teams, and the sacrifices they make away from their families and their own practice to do what they do for us,” said Kevin Margarucci, manager of player safety at USA Hockey.
Johnson currently practices orthopedic surgery at Orthopedic & Sport Medicine Specialists of Fargo and has served as the physician for West Fargo High School and Concordia College-Moorhead for the last two decades. Amidst that, he found the time to regularly serve as USA Hockey’s team physician during the World Junior Championship, which traditionally takes place during the Christmas and New Year’s holiday, and often overseas.
“It just says a lot about a person who is willing to give up their time to come work with us at USA Hockey and dedicate that amount of time year-after-year for as long as he’s done it, especially because the World Junior Championships fall during the holiday time,” Margarucci said. “That speaks volumes about the person he is and the character that he has.”
Prior to this year, Johnson played a role in eight other medal-winning U.S. National Junior Teams, including Team USA’s run to the gold medal in 2021 in Edmonton. Johnson was also part of the U.S. gold medal-winning teams at the 2010, 2013 and 2017 World Junior Championships, in addition to serving on staff for the U.S. National Junior Teams that claimed silver in 2019 and bronze in 2007, 2011 and 2016.
“He’s so well regarded by all the players, coaches and athletic trainers over the years,” Stuart said. “He’s become such a personal friend to so many of them, and it’s because of that dedication. He’s risen to the highest level, and he’s earned it based on his clinical skills, expertise, knowledge of the game and dedication to being a team player.”
That was on full display during the COVID-19 pandemic when the U.S. captured the gold medal during the 2021 World Junior Championship, despite playing the whole tournament inside a strict bubble with no fans in the arena.
Johnson runs his own medical practice but still performed additional duties and responsibilities as a team physician during a worldwide pandemic.
“It adds additional anxiety and job requirements because the team leans on the medical staff and athletic trainers,” Stuart said. “It added even more to the commitment because you had to not only deal with very intense testing and IIHF regulations, but also the local, regional and national governments. It was a very challenging time.”
Johnson also served as the team physician for the U.S. teams at the 2019 IIHF Men’s World Championship, the 2018 Olympic Winter Games and several Under-17 and Under-18 international competitions since 2000.
“We value being treated like we’re part of the team,” Stuart said. “Obviously we don’t score any goals or make any saves, but we contribute every way we can to the success of our teams and Phil really embraces that.”
Johnson served as the chief medical officer for the 2009 IIHF Under-18 Men’s World Championship in Fargo and Moorhead, Minnesota. He completed U.S. Olympic physician training in 1999 and continues to serve today as a medical supervisor for the IIHF.
“He stepped down as team physician, but he has interest in continuing with the IIHF, and we’re thrilled he’ll be part of that team for years to come,” Stuart said.
Johnson was excited to be part of the team for the last three decades. Despite running his own practice, passion and drive kept him going, as he found time to serve his country and as team physician for USA Hockey.
“You can tell how much he enjoyed hockey and enjoyed the ride,” Stuart said. “Every time we talked he wanted to discuss the players, coaches games and exciting goals and saves. Phil relishes being in the training room. Being at practices and being at those games in person for him was really a dream come true.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.