ZURICH – After two seasons in the NHL and AHL, Marcus Vinnerborg, 39, has decided to go back to Sweden. Vinnerborg made history when he became the first European referee to officiate an NHL game. “It is a family decision,” says Vinnerborg, who will continue officiating in Europe.
European players broke the National Hockey League barrier in the mid-60s. The first Euro coaches to be hired to lead an NHL team happened in 2000. But it took until 2010, on November 16 to be exact, when Vinnerborg became the first European to officiate an NHL game.
The Swede did it in Dallas where he called the Stars vs. Anaheim game together with veteran Paul Devorski. But after two years, 40 NHL games and 150 AHL games including playoffs, Marcus Vinnerborg has decided to move back to his home town of Ljungby in southern Sweden.
“It all came down to a family decision,” said Marcus, who moved to Thornhill, north of Toronto two years ago with his wife and his two daughters. “When you are working in the NHL and AHL you are gone for 150-160 nights per season. You are on the road 8-10 days, back home for three days and then gone again.”
“I realized that it is very difficult to be a family father under those circumstances, especially when you have two teen-aged daughters who deserve more attention. It was a very difficult decision to take, the NHL people liked my development and they wanted me to stay, but at the end this was the decision for our family.”
Vinnerborg is quick to dismiss any thoughts that the reason for his decision was that he “only” was assigned to call 40 NHL games, none of them playoff games.
“Absolutely not,” said Vinnerborg. “When I came here I knew very well the conditions that you needed to work the majority of your games in the American league for three years before you could have a chance to be considered for the Stanley Cup playoffs.”
“Again, it was all based on what was best for the family and the decision would have been the same had the NHL offered me a new NHL contract,” said Vinnerborg.
He goes back to Sweden and Europe as a vastly improved on-ice official:
“No doubt. I have developed as a referee, I can handle the small rinks better than before, I have improved my positioning and I feel more at ease with the four-man system. And I am incredibly thankful to the NHL and to the league’s referee supervisor Terry Gregson for having given me the opportunity.”
So Marcus Vinnerborg returns to the IIHF system where he has been officiating in the Swedish pro league Elitserien since 2000 and where his international résumé includes all IIHF World Championships between 2006 and 2009 (including the gold medal games in Moscow 2007 and Quebec City 2008), the 2004 IIHF World U18 Championship, the 2006 IIHF World Junior Championship and lastly, the 2010 Olympic in Vancouver.
The most given question of them all – is the Sochi 2014 Olympics on your mind?
“I am very honest when I say that I really haven’t been thinking so far ahead,” said Vinnerborg. “I have only been focusing on this very difficult decision whether to go home or to stay. Yes, I know that want to continue my officiating career in the Swedish league and eventually I will start thinking about any international assignments.”
“But things haven’t been standing still while I have been away. Many good, young European referees have come up through the ranks. If I want to officiate on any international level, I know that I will have to be very good and to qualify.”