Justin McHugh's hockey dreams led him to dentistry
When Justin McHugh was growing up, he knew one thing: he was going to be a Gopher someday.
An athletic kid who excelled in hockey, baseball, and football, he had his eyes set on the University of Minnesota. “I grew up loving the maroon and gold,” he said. Combined with his desire to pursue athletics, the ability to explore “just about anything anyone would want” in academics, and advice from his dad to embrace the University’s history and local connections, it was an easy choice to make.
Then, a scholarship to play hockey sealed the deal. Though he didn’t know it yet, the sport would lead him not only to a career in professional hockey, but his future as a dentist, too.
“The experience of being a student athlete was great,” the DDS ’01 graduate recalled. “The U gave me every opportunity to study what I wanted, and my college advisors kept me on track to balance sports and academics.”
As someone who’d watched the Gophers his whole life, playing “on the same sheet of ice that I grew up watching my hockey idols” was “incredible,” McHugh recalled. He loved playing hockey at the University of Minnesota—so much that he went on to play minor professional hockey for two years after he graduated.
But as an undergraduate, he still wasn’t sure what he wanted to study. Studying a combination of business and pre-medicine, he tried to find his passion for a few years.
Then, his junior year, he and a few friends were having a good time at the rink, not wearing full protection. “And sure enough, a hockey stick came up and hit me in the face...knocking out my three front teeth,” McHugh recalled.
“Needless to say, I spent quite a bit of time in the dental chair that year, and it really sparked my interest in dentistry.” So he reached out to James Gambucci, DDS, another Gopher hockey star turned dentist, “and the rest is history.”
“He was very instrumental in my decision to become a dentist,” McHugh said of Gambucci. “Along with my college roommate, who was the one who knocked my teeth out.”
Today, McHugh is a partner at Blue Ridge Dental Center, with two locations in Minnetonka and Maple Grove. He loves being a dentist because every day is different. “I love meeting new people and helping them in any way I can,” he said. “And I cherish the relationships I’ve formed with my patients and staff. They’ve truly become family.”
McHugh hopes he’s an example for his patients of what good dentistry looks like. “Most everyone cringes when I tell them I’m a dentist,” he said. “So that perception of pain has been ingrained in people’s minds for a long time.”
“I try to change that perception every day. Sometimes, we run into intense stuff, but that’s just a small percentage of what we do.”