Jonas Gustavsson and Carl Gunnarsson might want to teach coach Ron Wilson a few one-liners in Swedish should the Maple Leafs draw Marcus Vinnerborg as a referee one night this season.
The first European slated to work an NHL game, Vinnerborg is getting his last trials this week at the NHL officials training camp in Collingwood. The plan is for the 37-year-old from Ljungby, Sweden, to start in the American Hockey League but get a fair ration of NHL action.
He’s no stranger to Canada or smaller North American ice, having worked the Vancouver Olympics and the world championships here in 2008. He and countryman Christer Larking handled the ’08 Russia-Canada final and Vinnerborg made a fateful delay of game call on Rick Nash that led to Ilya Kovalchuk’s overtime winner for Russia. Vinnerborg has been in three world championships having earlier won the Golden Whistle, Sweden’s version of the Hart Trophy for officials, as voted by players.
“He has been a top ref and we thought this was a good idea to try him over here now,” said Mike Murphy, NHL vice-president of hockey operations. “He has a great reputation.”
A former player, Vinnerborg quit in 1987 to become a linesman and held an off-ice job as a high school teacher where he taught English and German, both attributes he can use in the Euro-flavoured NHL.
“I am very honoured to be the first European to have this dream-come-true opportunity,” Vinnerborg said earlier. “I hope that this will help to lead the way for other European officials in the future as well.”
Veteran Bill McCreary re-considered his decision to retire from the NHL officiating crew this year, but the league is grooming five younger refs who will be worked in with Vinnerborg.
In addition to experimenting with hybrid icing in exhibition games this month, Murphy says the officials will be stern in applying the league’s new head-shot rule as worded: A lateral, back-pressure or blind-side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact.
“If it’s not dealt with on the ice, we will address it through supplementary discipline,” Murphy added.