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:

Comments (12)

  1. In Soviet Russia, salts smell you

  2. Former Stars / Wild / Bruins goalie Manny Fernandez used to use these things during the game. Used to be kinda funny seeing them pile up in the back of the net as each period wore on…

  3. Does it help with alititude? I live in Denver and I see them used all the time by visiting teams. Football games, you used to see the players with O2 tanks on the sidelines [maybe you still do, I haven't watched much football lately] but hockey players I see smelling salts. I’ve gone on the ice after a CHL game for a kids skate and the visitor’s bench had a line of smelling salts down where the water bottles would go. I can’t imagine how they would help you recover your wind faster. Did you guys use them when you came to visit DU?

    • They don’t help with your “wind”. They only shake loose the cobwebs – They get your heart racing, and your blood pumping, and get you out of the dull stupor of the thousand-yard stare (which some players have at the beginning of a period.) Kind of like a slap to the face or a splash of ice-cold water.

      They’re not recommended (or safe) for anything else; especially not concussions or any form of unconsciousness resulting from collision or injury.

      • Then it must be unrelated to altitude, as I would think you would already be huffing all the air you can get and shocking yourself into a sharp inhalation wouldn’t really do anything.

  4. Yeah I may need to get some of these for the office, I tend to get sleepy after 2pm.

    • Haha, I use them just about every morning to get up and into the office (I ride my bike on a busy street and kind of need to) Dang easy to get outta bed with one of those!

  5. I pop a caffeine pill before each game.

  6. Just pop 60mg of Adderall 20 minutes before the game. Problem solved

  7. Is it me, or does the commentator begin to quote something from the show, “my name is Earl”?

    I refer to the main character of the show proclaiming the following:
    Wakey-wakey, hands off snakey

    If so, well done on the commentator’s part!

  8. A note from a scientist. Any time you breath something other than air (21% oxygen, 79% nitrogen) it is bad for you. It is just a matter of how bad.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *