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UND physician keeping USA Men's Hockey healthy, among 12 alums with Olympic connections

Posted on 2/9/2018

Originally published at UND Today:

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea - Competition on the international stage never gets old for Dr. Phil Johnson.

And for the next two weeks, Johnson, a clinical professor of surgery at UND's School of Medicine and Health Sciences, will be getting more than his fill - up close and personal.

In fact, you may catch glimpses of Johnson behind the bench of the U.S. Men's Olympic Ice Hockey Team as it goes for gold in The XXII Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Johnson is serving as the team physician for the U.S. squad. He's one of a dozen people at the Winter Games, including several athletes, who have strong ties to UND.

"I've been fortunate enough and humbled enough to be taken on by the Olympic team this year," Johnson said. "It's going to be exciting."

Though the first contests actually took place on Wednesday, the opening ceremonies for the Winter Games will air live at 5 a.m. CST on local NBC affiliates in the States (a taped broadcast is set for 7 p.m. Friday). The U.S. Men's Hockey Team's first game is set for Valentine's Day (Feb. 14) against Slovenia.

Natural competitor

Johnson is joining several other UND alumni at the Games, including current Fighting Hawk Ludvig Hoff, who's playing hockey for his native Norway; Joe Polo, USA Curling; Chay Genoway, Hockey Canada; and Jason Switzer, a trainer for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team.

Johnson was first given an opportunity to work with Team USA Hockey in 2000, when a colleague, Dr. Michael Stewart, was named chief medical officer for the team. Johnson had previously worked with Stewart while on a fellowship in sports medicine and surgery at the University of Western Ontario in Canada.

Johnson has been involved with USA Hockey in a variety of ways ever since. He's worked with players and coaches at the International Ice Hockey Federation's (IIHF) World Juniors Championship since 2004, including stints with the U.S. National Under-17 and 18 team and the gold medal-winning Team USA World Junior Team. He was also chief medical officer for the IIHF Under-18 World Championships in Fargo (2009) and Grand Forks (2016).

"It's so amazing to me that I can turn on the television most any night and there will be players on my screen that I've seen through the years with Team USA," he said. "It's fun to see players develop and grow, from when they were 17 years-old until they're professionals."

Johnson, a natural competitor who played football at UND, earned a physical therapy degree in 1980. However, not completely satisfied, he looked into medicine almost right away.

"I just decided I needed to go on," Johnson said. "Being exposed to sports through high school and football here (he was a wide receiver for UND in 1976 and 1977) led me to want to learn more about sport-related injuries. And I felt the profession that could best satisfy that interest, and allow me to do more for my patients, would be orthopedic surgery."

Johnson, who earned his medical degree from the SMHS in 1984, wanted not only to treat injuries, but fix them.

"That's what we do in orthopedic surgery," he said. "Structures fracture or become torn and we repair them and try to allow these patients to get back to the level of participation or work they're used to."

Johnson, who lives in Horace, N.D., has made a career out of getting athletes back on the field or court or ice. In addition to his work with USA Hockey, he's been a team physician for the Fargo-Moorhead Beez of the International Basketball Association and the Fargo- Moorhead Redhawks minor league baseball club.

But, for the near term, his focus is squarely on U.S. Men's Hockey and its quest for Olympic glory.

"It's a different level-there are obviously more eyes focused on you than at the World Juniors, but it's going to be fun in Pyeongchang," he said.

Dad's footsteps

A relative newbie to the Olympics this week is UND Hockey's Ludvig Hoff, who recently got an early-morning call from his mother that he had been selected by his native Norway to compete in the Winter Games.

"I was a little surprised but I'm honored," he said about the news. "It's a childhood dream come true - it's always been a goal my whole life."

It's especially meaningful for Hoff because his father played on the 1994 Norwegian Olympic Team in Lillehammer, Norway.

"You can't get bigger than the Olympics," Hoff said. "It's such an honor to represent national teams. I'll certainly remember it a long time."

Alumni with Olympic Connections

If UND and its alumni were their own nation, they would make quite an impression at the opening ceremonies early Friday morning in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The University boasts no less than 12 alumni - a dynamo dozen, if you will - who will be playing or serving in an official capacity at the Winter Olympics this year. That number would dwarf many national delegations that will be represented at this year's Games. UND also had 12 alumni with Olympic connections in the last Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Here's a rundown:

Philip K. Johnson, team doctor, USA Hockey
Jason Switzer, athletic trainer, U.S. Ski and Snowboarding Team
Joe Polo, athlete, USA Curling
Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, athlete, USA Hockey
Monique Lamoureux-Morando, athlete, USA Hockey
Andy Parr, production engineer, NBC Sports
Ludvig Hoff, athlete, Norway Men's Hockey
Chay Genoway , athlete, Hockey Canada
Michelle Karvinen, athlete, Finland Women's Hockey
Emma Nuutinen, athlete, Finland Women's Hockey
Susana Tapani, Finland Women's Hockey
Johanna Fallman, Sweden Women's Hockey

Brian Schill of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and UND Today Staff Writer Jan Orvik contributed to this report.

-David Dodds

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