People seem to be interested in this (in the wake of our Bobrovsky post), so I thought I’d quickly explain what you’re seeing above (from 6th Sens), even though you likely have some idea that Mark Borowiecki is huffing “smelling salts.”

Here’s how Wikipedia defines what’s in that stick guys pass around:

[Smelling salts] are chemical compounds used for arousing consciousness. The usual active compound is ammonium carbonate, a colorless-to-white, crystalline solid ((NH4)2CO3·H2O). Because most modern solutions are mixed with water, they should more properly be called “aromatic spirits of ammonia.” Modern solutions may also contain other products to perfume or act in conjunction with the ammonia, such as lavender oil or eucalyptus oil.

The only thing I can tell you as a non-scientist ex-hockey player, is that they are excellent, and for a brief second, they make you feel like you’ve been punched in the brain. Sounds healthy right? …Whatever, I seriously need to see if I can find some of those for writing.

By “punched in the brain,” I mean there’s a little stinging “woosh” feeling, then clarity. Like, your eyes focus better, you feel more alert, and you’re 63,000 miles from yawning (still writing about smelling salts here). It doesn’t last or anything, it’s just a little less violent than a slap in the face. Granted, that may not be the case long-term, but athletes are generally willing to trade some of the future for a more productive now.

Trainers pass them out to a number of guys on the bench who like them – white sticks about the length of a cologne sample but thicker that you have to snap to break, then inhale in the next 10-15 seconds. A pink colour visibly spreads across about half the inside of the tube, and guys chuck ‘em on the ground or where the waterbottles go, because someone is gonna clean that up, and there isn’t exactly a tidy can and a “no littering” sign nearby. It’s the standard look inside a pro hockey bench.

Most guys will sniff them until they get that punch – the ammonia aroma alone doesn’t do it, you need that punch – then they’ll be done with it for the day. If you see a guy who needs it at the start of the second, and he’s likely not playing well.

I don’t know if it’s bad for you (I’m sure it is when used after a big hit to, I dunno, “shake off” a concussion?), but I do know that those little things are effective, make you react like this: