Why hockey players use smelling salts? Exploring the science behind the ritual

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Carolina Hurricanes
The science and ritual of smelling salts in hockey culture

Hockey players often use smelling salts before games. These are small capsules filled with substance called ammonium carbonate. When they are crushed, they release a strong smell of ammonia.

The sharp smell wakes you up fast because it irritates a nerve in the body that's connected to the heart and lungs. That makes you feel more alert and gives off a burst of energy.

Smelling salts have been used for a while, originally to help people who felt dizzy or fainted. Even though they're not allowed in some sports, like football, they're still used in hockey and other sports where players need to be super alert. Athletes think that smelling salts work because they give a fast burst of energy, helping them play better.

The sensory shock from the ammonia gas may only last a few seconds, but for NHL players, that momentary clarity is crucial. However, the use of these salts in hockey is not just about the physical effects.

Athletes really stick to their routines and superstitions. Before a big game, they've got habits they swear by. It's all about getting their head in the right place, feeling calm and focused. Smelling salts are just part of that routine. They're like a quick boost that helps them feel mentally sharp and ready to go and not just physically pumped up. It's like a secret weapon that gets them in the zone.

Despite the scientific explanation behind the use of smelling salts, their efficacy is more psychological than physiological. The burst of wakefulness they provide may be fleeting, but the ritual itself holds significant mental value.

Players think that using smelling salts helps them do better in the game. As many players use them too, it kind of makes them feel like it's a good thing to do. So, it's like a mix of science and superstition.

It's science because of how the salts wake up your body and superstition, as players believe that they bring them luck or help them play better. It's just part of hockey culture.

New York Islanders' Kyle Palmieri shared his views on smelling salts before playing hockey

New York Islanders Kyle Palmieri describes it succinctly:

"I love them. They just wake you up. They smell like s***."

When you smell something really strong, like ammonia, it wakes you up fast. It's like a sudden jolt of energy that can help hockey players get moving quickly, especially if they're feeling tired before a game or during the game.

So, even though the smell might not be pleasant, it does the job of getting players ready to play their best.

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