Anchored in hockey history -- Kamloops resident Marsh invented net pegs used in NHL

Fred Marsh, 81, created the Marsh Flexible Goal Peg system while managing a recreation facility in Kitimat more than 30 years ago. The pegs are now used worldwide. Dave Eagles/KTW Every net in the National Hockey League has its roots in Kamloops.

The Tournament Capital is the home of the Marsh Flexible Goal Peg system, the place where Kamloops' Fred Marsh receives and tests the polyurethane net anchors before packaging and shipping them to all 30 NHL arenas.

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Conceived by Marsh more than 30 years ago, the Marsh Pegs secure hockey nets in ice rinks worldwide. They revolutionized player safety in Canada's game -- stiff enough to hold nets in place when bumped or pushed on, but flexible enough to allow them to come loose when players went crashing in at high speeds.

"I just sit back and I know that nobody is going to get hurt," Marsh says in his Kamloops home, the original Marsh Pegs, now faded and brittle, mounted in a shadowbox on the table next to him.

"I just think, 'Wow, I did that.'"

The Marsh Flexible Goal Peg system has humble beginnings, despite the international fame that it and its 81-year-old founder eventually garnered.

Marsh, who at the time managed recreation facilities in Kitimat, was only looking to improve safety in the two rinks in the Northern B.C. municipality.

Before the Marsh Pegs came along, Kitimat, along with other small-town rinks worldwide, were freezing hockey nets directly into the ice surface. A wobbly atom or a high-flying midget would be met with an immoveable object if they went sliding into a post.

Marsh travelled Western Canada in the early days, experimenting with materials in hopes of finding what he was looking for. He found plastic was too brittle when it got cold and rubber too stiff.

But, in the mid-1980s, he found the polyurethane that would form the basis of the pegs.

"We made one final trip down to Vancouver and they had a piece of that in the shop. I said, 'That's exactly what I'm looking for,'" he says.

"I was ready to give up, but Sheila wouldn't let me. She said, 'You've gotten this far, you just keep going.'"

In fact, Fred gives as much credit for the product to his wife as he takes for himself. Sheila says she wouldn't let him quit, "Because it was a good idea.

"There were so many people getting hurt," she told KTW.

"It was his dream."

With the pegs in use in Kitimat, Fred knew, in short order, the value of what he had created. He soon found himself touring Western Canadian cities on his holidays, selling his goal-peg system in local arenas and in Western Hockey League barns, Sheila all the while reading books in the car.

The product took off -- the Marsh Pegs got their junior start in the homes of the Moose Jaw Warriors and the Saskatoon Blades and, before long, had spread throughout the WHL.

And, in 1991, after meetings with the NHL's brass, the Marsh Peg made its debut in the world's top hockey league.

At the time, the NHL had been using magnets to secure its posts, which allowed nets to come loose with the slightest bump.

Previously, it was metal anchors that moored nets, but the results were disastrous. It was such a setup that nearly ended Serge Savard's professional career when the Montreal Canadiens' defenceman collided with then net while trying to stop a breakaway, fracturing his leg in five places which needed three operation to repair.

Years later, when Fred received a Manning Innovation Award for the Marsh Pegs, he and Savard appeared on the cover of a Montreal newspaper, despite his product winning one of the event's secondary awards.

Coincidentally, the principal award that year was given to Dr. Pierre Côté, the man who championed the water-filtration system that would revolutionize Kamloops' drinking water five years later.

In 1998, the same year Fred moved to Kamloops, the Marsh Pegs made their debut in the Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. They've been used in the Olympics, and in International Ice Hockey Federation events like the World Hockey Championships and the World Junior Championships, ever since.

The pegs have helped Fred become a part of hockey lore -- he has met the likes of Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe, been interviewed by Ron MacLean and Don Cherry.

It has never been about fame for the Marshes, though.

"We didn't make many bucks off of it, but we both retired early," Fred says.

"The satisfaction is enormous," Sheila echoed.

The Marsh Pegs franchise has become all the more important in recent years, as Fred's health has gone through its ups and downs.

The 81-year-old was diagnosed with cancer three years ago and, at the time, the doctor only shook his head when Fred asked for a prognosis.

A month ago, seeing a new doctor for the first time, the Marshes found out just how serious Fred's condition had been.

"He said, 'You know, when you were first diagnosed, you had weeks to live,'" Fred says. His new doctor now calls him the miracle man.

"He said, 'I've never seen such a remarkable case.'"

Alone in their household office, surrounded by prints of backyard hockey rinks and a picture of Fred in the uniform he wore in his days as a WHL official, Sheila smiles. The Marsh Pegs have come to be about more than just improving the safety of Canada's game.

"I know we should pass it on to one of the grandsons," she says. "But, it keeps him going."

The company keeps Fred busy. Marsh Pegs are now recommended by name in most arenas and the pegs in the NHL need to be replaced every two years to make sure they are still working properly. A new colour with each cycle allows Fred to make sure teams are using up-to-date pegs as he watches on TV.

The Marsh Pegs have been a labour of love and have had exceptional results.

"When I first came up with the idea, they just laughed at me," Fred says. Even his family thought it was a silly idea.

"Now, he's everybody's favourite uncle," Sheila says with a smile.

© 2018 Kamloops This Week

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