In 2010, after four World Championship tournaments and also having had the opportunity to display his impartiality at the Olympic Games, Vinnerborg received a call from Terry Gregson. Gregson had been a long-time referee himself but after retiring, he had worked his way up to the NHL board of directors. Vinnerborg was asked whether or not he would like to come to the United States for a season to test the waters, starting in lower leagues and working his way up to the NHL. Vinnerborg wanted to. After only ten games in the American Hockey League (AHL) he officiated his first game in the NHL. The dreams of so many came true for him as the Dallas Stars toppled the Anaheim Ducks 2:1 — a preliminary high point in a fast-track career — and now other Europeans could dream the same. Vinnerborg began in 1987, turned pro in 2006, and in 2010 he became the first European referee in the NHL. “Now all European referees can set this goal for themselves because it’s possible,” Vinnerborg said after seeing his dream come true. “I’m happy to have played a role in that.”
European referees are usually at a disadvantage to their North American counterparts, who often choose this path at around the age of 15. It’s hard to catch up. But Vinnerborg — a trained German and English teacher — was proficient, passionate, and had a good head for the game. He enjoyed every second on the ice. Two years, 190 official matches. But then he called it quits. His dream had come true, but life in the North American leagues was different from anything he had ever known before. Over a course of nine months, Vinnerborg had spent more than 150 nights in hotels and lost contact with his children. Ice hockey was his life, but his life could not consist of ice hockey alone. So now he’s “reffing” in Switzerland.