The IIHF brought eight referees to Halifax for the World Junior Championship this year, and from that select group it has chosen Ulf Radbjer of Sweden to officiate the final game of the tournament, Canada vs. Russia for the gold medal. Radbjer has held the whistle for four games during play leading up to the game, notably the Finland-Russia contest in the quarter-final.
”Up to now, we have evaluated the officials for every game,” explained Bob Nadin, one of two supervisors of the officials. “The officials are supervised and critiqued for how they’ve handled games, particularly difficult situations, and then we decide who is best for the game in question.”
So why Radbjer? How was his name drawn? “Every referee here has been to at least one important junior or senior event at the international level,” Nadin continued. “Most of our evaluations are pretty close, so in a lot of ways it’s a gut feeling for who would be best given a particular matchup.”
Radbjer is no stranger to the pressures and intensities of international competition. His first big tournament was the 1997 European U18 championship. Since then he has also been to the 1998 U20 and was the referee for the 2001 gold medal game at the World Championship. Most recently, Radbjer was the referee for the bronze medal game (Russia-Belarus) in Salt Lake City during the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.
Radbjer has been an official for ten years, and he came about his profession honestly. He started out as a player and was a late cut from Sweden’s national junior team. He then turned pro in the Swedish Elite League and was good enough that the Boston Bruins wrote and told him they were coming to Sweden to scout him. However, the last game before their arrival, he was cross-checked from behind into the boards while skating at full speed and suffered extensive back injuries. He continued to play pro, but his days as a prime European prospect for the NHL were over. In all, he played seven years in the SEL before retiring in 1991.
A teammate of his suggested they attend a clinic for officials. He knew the rule book well enough and enjoyed interpreting the game, and just like that a new career was born. Outside his international work, Radbjer has been reffing in the SEL for eight years, but unlike NHL officials, he has always had a day job. For 22 years, Radbjer has been a police officer in Stockholm working in a patrol car. He knows all about staying calm under pressure and handling all kinds of difficult situations, so it’s no wonder the IIHF put the whistle in his hand for the final game of the 2003 WJC.