The origins of Third Assist can be traced back to childhoods in the Last Frontier in the 1990s. Anchorage, Alaska is a hockey town. The majority of public schools had an outdoor rink and there were countless ponds where you could find games. There were a handful of ways to pass the long, dark winters in Alaska and hockey was the first choice for many.
As in most hockey towns, brothers Chris and Andrew were introduced to hockey skates shortly after they started walking. Between the two, it was rare there were any days off of the ice. The favorite place to play were the ponds, where you could skate for hours until the puck got lost in the accumulating snow. When the sun went down or the lights went off, they would spend the drive home thawing out their hands and feet beneath a sputtering minivan heater. Despite the abuse to the extremities and inevitable frostbite that came with skating in subzero temperatures, comfort was never the first thought when heading out for a game.
Front and center with missing teeth and donut neckguard
Fast forward 15 years, and Chris found himself teaching kids to skate in similar conditions. Both kids and parents were voicing comments he could remember from his childhood. Conditions were rough and it was taking a toll on the kids playing out there. Both the kids and the parents agreed playing outdoors was the best way to enjoy the game, until the weather made it so it wasn't.
And that's where the first Third Assist product was born..
Are you joining from our About Us page? If so, welcome to the Third Assist Origins Part I. To keep on theme with the "About Us" passage from above I'd have to refer to myself (Chris) in the third person and that's always awkward. If you're reading this, you're more dedicated than most and probably just curious about how the business started. So with that in mind I'm attacking this like storytelling for a friend, so it'll be more informal from here on out. The story continues:
And that's where the first Third Assist product was born..
The first Third Assist product was actually the result of a previous entrepreneurial venture. I was enrolled in an entrepreneurship program at the University of Maryland when I developed the idea of a camping business for a class project. For the project I proposed crafting light synthetic blankets for warm weather camping and called the business Father Nature Outdoors: "Because Mother Nature can be a pain". Besides a ridiculous tagline, there were benefits that came from the proposed venture. I learned the ropes of starting an ecommerce business: how to test materials, create prototypes, source products, figure out logistics, and ultimately run the behind-the-scenes of a small business.
The school offered a 0% loan to start up the idea, but rather than start a business in debt I received advice from a fellow student entrepreneur to test the waters first through crowdfunding. Nowadays I think there's a stigma to crowdfunding, but this was in the Kickstarter heyday of the early 2010s and there didn't seem to be many cons of testing the concept there first. I spent a couple months developing a campaign, launched it, and waited thirty days with my fingers crossed. It was coming along at a decent pace, but somehow on day 20 I stumbled in enough luck to be featured on the front page of Kickstarter. With that luck I ended up nearly doubling my funding goal of $12000. Father Nature Outdoors took off in late 2012.
So what does this have to do with Third Assist? The sporting good contacts I made through Father Nature Outdoors made it possible to explore the first Third Assist product a year later: Pioneer Outdoor Hockey Gloves.
It took hearing a couple parents and kids lamenting about cold fingers to take me back to my childhood playing outside for hours in Anchorage. I remembered playing for hours, losing feeling in my hands and feet, only to uncomfortably thaw them out under a heater hours later. Uncomfortable, but totally worth it for a game. But what if kids and parents could stay out even longer and be comfortable doing it? That's more time on the ice and more time together with family and friends. Plus as a parent now, if I can keep my kids from complaining about the cold, it buys me more time outside having fun with them.
When it came time to produce the first prototype of outdoor hockey gloves there were a number of ways one could go. Modern, old-school, thinsulate lining, down lining, wool blends, padded winter gloves, insulated hockey gloves, etc.- What's the best combo? Well this was just after the first Winter Classic games kicked off and there was a big push to celebrate the origins of the game. I wanted the first pair of gloves to look like something that could've been made by a rugged trapper in his lakeside cabin decades back. That meant old-school construction, leather materials, and wool lining. Made by hand? Even better. My rationale- as soon as you step outside the traditional hockey box it's going to be polarizing anyway, so might as well take the leap and design a unique set of gloves from the inside out. I gambled some might not buy in, but some will love it.
It took a handful of prototypes until I found a combination I was willing to put online. My brother Andrew made up a business name that was a nod to the game, but also tongue in cheek. We embroidered the name on the cuff of the gloves and that was that. In December 2013 I built a three page website to see if I would get any organic traffic for people searching "cold hands playing hockey". I had one set of gloves and put up the first pair for just over $100 to see what would happen. What happened next changed the trajectory of my life.
That was a dramatic line. No, I didn't become an overnight millionaire, but two days later I sold the only pair we had made. Two days after that I sold another pair (which I didn't have by the way). And by Christmas I had sold enough pairs to believe the idea was viable. But it New Years Day I learned I must now do this, because Third Assist was picked up by Gear Patrol. Gear Patrol is probably the #1 general gear site in the world and to this day I have zero idea how they picked up the half-developed idea. In fact, every winter since I wish they would pick up Third Assist again. The result of the January 1, 2014 Gear Patrol highlight meant much more web traffic and inquiries for out of stock gloves. Since I didn't have any more gloves, it was time to get them made. Also for the record I fully refunded all unfulfilled orders and offered customers gloves at-cost (zero profit) whenever I could get them in stock.
As a result of the activities of the 2013 holidays, it was time to get the ball rolling.
Today we sell 10+ models of gloves, handcrafted and engraved wood sticks, hockey sweaters, state hockey tees, hockey watches (2023 spoiler!), and more. If you want to keep following along with this Third Assist origins story, check out Part II coming soon..