Hockey history will be made when Sweden’s Marcus Vinnerborg becomes the first European referee to officiate an NHL game. Vinnerborg, a 37-year old native of Ljungby, Sweden, will make his NHL debut on Tuesday, November 16, when he will call the Anaheim vs. Dallas game together with fellow Vancouver 2010 Olympic referee Paul Devorski.
The next day (November 17) Vinnerborg will officiate the San Jose vs. Colorado game with Stephen Walkom. The referee assignments have been made official by the National Hockey League.
"You can’t set this as a goal for yourself because until now the NHL has been a closed world to European officials. I feel fortunate to get this opportunity and to be appreciated by them,” Vinnerborg said in a recent interview with IIHF.com.
Since the former IIHF referee moved to Canada this past summer, Vinnerborg has been preparing himself by working games in the American Hockey League.
Apart from being one of the most highly-rated referees in the Swedish top pro league (Elitserien) since 2000, Vinnerborg has also been one of the most prominent international referees since 2004. His resume includes all IIHF World Championships between 2006 and 2009 (including the gold medal games in Russia 2007 and in Canada 2008), the 2004 IIHF World U18 Championship, the 2006 IIHF World U20 (Junior) Championship and lastly the 2010 Olympics.
Vinnerborg continues the tradition of Swedish “firsts” in the NHL. In 1964, Swedish forward Ulf Sterner became the first European trained player to sign an NHL contract which led to four games with the New York Rangers during the 1964-65 season.
Defenceman Thommie Bergman became the first European trained player to play a full NHL season (75 games with the Detroit Red Wings in 1972-73) while defenceman Börje Salming opened the door for all Europeans after rising to immediate stardom in 1973-74 when he debuted with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Europeans later made inroads in the coaching ranks when Alpo Suhonen and Ivan Hlinka became head coaches for a short time, and now officiating becomes the last bastion to fall for Europeans wanting to participate in the NHL.