Vinnerborg becomes NHL's first European-trained ref
DENVER -- Marcus Vinnerborg, the first European-trained official to work in the NHL, doesn't really see himself as a pioneer.
"Of course, you're the pioneer when you're the first one to do something," he told NHL.com after officiating the Colorado Avalanche's 4-3 overtime win against the San Jose Sharks at the Pepsi Center on Wednesday night. "To be honest, I don't look at it too much like that. I came here to learn from the best officials in the world and to adapt to their way of working, and to work in the best league in the world.
"It's an opportunity I couldn't turn down. A pioneer or not, I would have come anyway. Hopefully everything works out well. So far I have had a very good start."
Vinnerborg, 38, previously worked in the Swedish Elite League and has handled a number of major international assignments, including the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and several International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships.
Marcus Vinnerborg (Glenn James/NHLI)
Vinnerborg said he worked about 10 games in the American Hockey League after arriving in North America in September before making his NHL debut on Tuesday in Dallas, where the Stars defeated the Anaheim Ducks 2-1.
On Wednesday, Vinnerborg worked with fellow referee Stephen Walkom, along with linesmen Darren Gibbs and Brad Lazarowich.
"It's a dream come true," he said. "I've worked two games now and enjoyed every minute of it. My colleagues have been very supportive in getting me into the game. I've worked with six wonderful guys so far.
"I have to admit it was pretty difficult to wind down after (Tuesday) night's game because it was the premiere. I had a good sleep this afternoon, so everything worked out well.
"Two very good hockey games. Going north and south, Europeans are not used to that, it's more cycling going on. I do my best to keep up with the pace. I learn new things by the minute. It's really fun."
This includes adapting to smaller rinks, along with North American geography.
"There must be six or seven Charlottes in North America, so I have to look to see which state I'm going to," said Vinnerborg, who will travel Thursday to Oklahoma City, where he'll officiate two AHL games. "I don't know everything by heart.
"I'm adjusting to it. That's one of the things I have on my steep learning curve to acclimatize to. I learn new things by the minute, and I have very good coaches and colleagues to help me out. There are so many ways of doing it and I have to find my way of doing it."
Vinnerborg also is getting used to using a microphone to announce penalties, and adjusting to the NHL's video replay system. He was involved in a call involving replay in each of his first two games.
"It's an opportunity I couldn't turn down. A pioneer or not, I would have come anyway. Hopefully everything works out well. So far I have had a very good start." -- Marcus Vinnerborg
On Wednesday, his request for a review came early in the third period when it appeared the Sharks' Jamie McGinn batted the puck into the net with a high stick, which was confirmed by league officials in Toronto.
"In Sweden, a video judge is in each arena, so you don't have a war room," Vinnerborg said. "In Europe, you blow the whistle – goal or no goal – and here you have to start thinking, ‘Am I going to blow the whistle? Am I going to do a washout? Am I going to do a high stick?' Those situations are new to me.
"Trained eyes would see that my decision was a bit delayed because a lot of things were going through my mind, but the right call was made."
Vinnerborg's road to the NHL began during the Olympics when he was approached by Terry Gregson, the League's director of officiating.
"He said something might be going on," Vinnerborg said. "After I finished my season back in Sweden, I got a phone call from Terry and he wanted to know if I'd be interested to come and work for a season and try the North American way of hockey, starting in the minors as everyone does."
Vinnerborg first talked it over with his wife Anna and their twin 12-year-old daughters Amanda and Vila at the family home in Ljungby, Sweden.
"I very much appreciate them accepting my dedication and affection for my job and the game of hockey," he said.
After receiving the OK, Vinnerborg and his family scouted the Toronto area in August for a place to live and settled on Thornburg, Ont. Anna and the girls went back to Sweden before school started there and will return Dec. 2.
"I'm really looking forward to seeing them again," Vinnerborg said. "I've been on my own since September. Thornburg is the perfect spot to be. Everyone is so nice and the girls like to ski, so maybe there will be some snow before Christmas. The school semesters in Canada are similar to Sweden, and the girls will get to meet new friends and classmates.
"This is going to be a new experience for all of us."