And as far as I can tell, his reputation is as close to spotless as it gets.
Marcus Vinnerborg is the first European-trained referee ever hired by the NHL. He has extensive experience working international events for the IIHF, from the World Juniors to the World Championships to this year’s Olympics. NHL.com credits him with working more than 125 international games. He’s also spent the last decade working as a referee in the Elitserien, the top league in Sweden. Vinnerborg is thrilled to get the opportunity to work in the NHL:
"I am very honored to be the first European to have this dream-come-true opportunity of working in the NHL. I hope that this will help to lead the way for other European officials in the future as well. Personally, I look forward to having the chance to work with, and learn from, the best officials in the best League in the world."
Vinnerborg did a long interview (warning – Swedish) that’s fairly revealing. He was forced to choose between playing soccer and playing hockey at an early age, and he chose soccer, but to stay close to hockey he took up refereeing, which he did on weekends. It turned into a career, and Vinnerborg was asked if he saw himself as one of the world’s foremost referees after handling some of the most prominent matches at the World Championships:
“Absolutely not! I’m about as good as my most recent calls. So on the slack rope balance always. If I could walk around and think of the tracks that I am the world’s best so I would stop developing and then there would be mistake after mistake. You have to be on your toes in every situation. There is no room for complacency.”
That’s a Google Translation, so I’m not sure if “on the slack rope balance always” means that he can’t afford to give himself slack or he’s walking a tightrope, but whatever it is sounds pretty encouraging. Some more Google Translation gems, all quoting Vinnerborg:
Referees are often the toughest team itself. You know when you have a good game just like you know when you made a shitty effort, then you have to find the cause. It can for instance be that the children had vomiting sick and you have been awake all night before, then there is an actual cause. I simply could not be on top. If you have prepared themselves carefully and still make a bad bet, you have to find the cause.
There really is not "sheltered workshop" where we only get praise, but there is fierce criticism and high ceilings and it must be so otherwise we will stop developing.
Next expel you will be so good that no one should be able to protest. Do not go out and try to compensate for yourself because you made bad judgments in the previous period.
"I would like to see you got more control over punishment" checking from behind "and" checking to head ". Is it that you have an injury in the current situation, it is automatically "match-penalty" (automatic shutdown). It ties the hands of us, plus many times that we are on the track to determine if the player is injured or not and what is damage? Yes it is up to each judge to decide. I would rather see my 5 + "miscunduct Game", to start with it and possibly. Video review after the event and then raise it up to shutdown. For example, be the player who was rigging the visor had defects that eyebrow burst and the blood spurted, but three plays later he changes again and then I sent out a player who is off due to a broken eyebrows.”
The entire interview is well worth a read, even through (and sometimes because of) the relatively limited window of Google Translate. Vinnerborg talks about many of the issues currently facing the NHL – for instance, on a hit from behind, what about where players put themselves in a vulnerable position? How should a referee handle a dishonest player? He talks about his own background – he taught English and German before becoming a professional referee.
Throughout, he comes across as balanced, articulate, and pretty much the ideal on-ice official. It fits well with his reputation; he’s been highly praised by just about everyone over the course of his career, and for almost every international tournament that he’s refereed he’s been singled out as either the best or one of the best IIHF referees by North American coaches and players. In 2007-08, he was named the Elitserien’s best referee, as voted on by the players.
Vinnerborg obviously isn’t perfect, but his past suggest that he’s as good a trailblazer for European officials as anyone could hope for.