COLOGNE – It’s not every day a hockey referee fields phone calls and text messages from people wishing him good luck, saying how happy they are for him, or how proud they are of him. On Friday, though, Marcus Vinnerborg did just that, as the hockey world received the news of his joining the NHL officiating team.
“It can’t get any bigger than this. Never before has it even been on the radar for a European referee to go to the NHL, but thanks to Konstantin Komissarov, the IIHF officiating manager, and Terry Gregson, the NHL director of officiating, it has now become true,” Vinnerborg said over the phone from Sweden.
The possibility was brought up during the Vancouver Olympics which were officiated by mixed IIHF-NHL teams, and a few weeks ago, Vinnerborg got the actual, official offer.
Professionally, it’s a no-brainer. But Vinnerborg is no 18-year-old kid from Sweden, who’s just been drafted to the NHL.
“I still have to pinch myself. It’s the best league in the world, and to be working with some of the most experienced and competent referees will be wonderful. However, I’m 37, have a wife and two daughters, so we had to sit down and talk it all through,” he says.
Vinnerborg will fly over to North America in August, find a house for the family, and prepare himself for the NHL training camp in September.
“We’ll move to Toronto, and I’ll travel from there. The camp opens on September 5,” Vinnerborg says.
“It will be a lot easier to stay motivated during the off-season, and push a little harder at the gym and on the running track,” he adds.
Vinnerborg - who’s been a professional referee in Sweden for the past four years - has a contract that covers the 2010-11 season, and 80 games. His first assignments will be in the AHL so that he can start getting used to the North American style.
“I’ll follow the NHL Playoffs from here, and get in touch with all the people I know there. I can’t stress enough how grateful I am for Konstantin and Terry for making this dream come true. This is not about me, this is the work of the Swedish federation, the IIHF, the NHL, and many, many people around me,” he says.
“The hockey family is getting tighter by the day, and we saw that in Vancouver, we had a really great group of people there,” he says.
Vinnerborg’s phone is still ringing, and the messages are flooding in.
“Everybody’s wishing me luck, everybody’s so proud of me. The only person not ecstatic about this, is my 83-year-old grandmother who thinks that we won’t be seeing often enough now,” Vinnerborg says.
He'll just have to make sure to call her.