The Wake-Up Call on Ice: Why Do Hockey Players Use Smelling Salts?

Benjamin Kenyon

Updated on:

Hockey Players Use Smelling Salts

Hockey is a sport that demands split-second decisions, unwavering focus, and peak physical performance. In the high-octane world of ice hockey, players often need an extra edge to stay mentally sharp during intense games. 

That’s where the age-old tradition of using smelling salts comes into play. Smelling salts, with their pungent aroma and quick-acting properties, have become a familiar sight in locker rooms and on the benches of hockey arenas worldwide. 

But why do hockey players use smelling salts also known as ammonia-infused capsules? In this blog post, we dive into the fascinating world of smelling salts in hockey. We explore the science behind their use, uncover the rituals and superstitions associated with them, and shed light on their safety. 

Join us as we uncover the secrets behind this curious practice that continues to be a part of the game’s rich heritage. Stay focused. 

Hockey Players Use Smelling Salts

What Are Smelling Salts?

Smelling salts are a chemical compound, typically containing ammonium carbonate, that releases pungent and irritating fumes when crushed or broken. They have been used for centuries as a means to revive individuals who have fainted or lost consciousness. 

When the sealed container is opened, the ammonia gas produced stimulates the nasal membranes, causing a reflexive inhalation response. Smelling salts work by irritating the mucous membranes in the nose, triggering a sharp intake of breath and an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. 

This can help restore consciousness in a short period, making them a common tool in medical emergencies, sports, and even historical fainting remedies.

While smelling salts are still used in some situations, their popularity has waned due to safety concerns and the development of more effective and safer methods for reviving unconscious individuals. They should be used with caution and under proper guidance to avoid potential health risks.

Why Are Smelling Salts Allowed in Hockey?

Smelling salts are allowed in hockey and used by some players primarily for their stimulating effects. They can help players quickly regain alertness and focus during games. Here are a few reasons why they are permitted in the sport:

Rapid Arousal

Hockey is a fast-paced, physical sport that demands players to be alert and responsive at all times. Smelling salts can provide a quick jolt of wakefulness, which can be crucial in intense moments during a game.

Energy Boost

The ammonia fumes released by smelling salts can stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, leading to increased heart rate and improved blood flow. This can provide players with a temporary boost in energy and mental clarity.

No Performance Enhancement

Smelling salts do not enhance a player’s physical performance or skill level. They merely provide short-term mental alertness, which is not considered an unfair advantage in the context of the game.

Tradition and Superstition

Smelling salts have a long history in hockey and other sports. Some players may use them out of tradition or superstition, believing they bring good luck or help maintain a competitive edge.

However, it’s important to note that the use of smelling salts in hockey is not without controversy. Some argue that their use can lead to overreliance, and potential health risks, and may not align with modern sports medicine practices.

Why Do Hockey Players Use Smelling Salts?

Hockey Players Use Smelling Salts

Hockey players use smelling salts for several reasons:

Quick Arousal

In the fast-paced and physically demanding environment of hockey, players often find themselves battling fatigue, both physical and mental. The need to stay alert and sharp throughout the game is paramount. Smelling salts offer a rapid and intense wake-up call. 

When a player breaks a smelling salt capsule or container, the ammonia fumes are released, creating a strong and immediate sensory stimulus. This sensory shock can help players snap out of moments of drowsiness or mental fog, allowing them to refocus on the game swiftly.

Increased Alertness

The ammonia found in smelling salts irritates the sensitive nasal passages and triggers an automatic inhalation reflex. This reflexive deep inhalation results in a surge of oxygen intake, leading to a sensation of heightened alertness and energy. 

This sudden increase in oxygen can be especially beneficial during shifts on the ice when players need to maintain peak physical and mental performance.

Mental Focus

Hockey games can be lengthy, and maintaining mental focus over extended periods can be challenging. Smelling salts can be a valuable tool for combating mental fatigue. 

They can help players overcome distractions, stay locked into the game strategy, and make split-second decisions with precision. This is particularly crucial in high-pressure situations, such as penalty kills or power plays.

Psychological Boost

The ritual of using smelling salts can serve as a psychological boost for some players. Breaking a smelling salt capsule can become part of a pre-game routine, helping athletes get into the right mindset for competition. 

It can be a way to psych themselves up, enhance confidence, and prepare mentally for the challenges ahead.

Tradition and Habit

Smelling salts have been part of the hockey culture for a long time. Many players may use them simply because it’s a tradition deeply ingrained in the sport’s history. 

Some athletes might believe that using smelling salts brings good luck or that it’s a necessary part of their preparation. Over time, it can become a habit that players associate with their pre-game rituals.

However, it’s essential to emphasize that while smelling salts can offer short-term benefits, they are not a substitute for proper physical and mental conditioning. Overreliance on smelling salts can have potential health risks, including respiratory irritation and dependency.

How Does Smelling Salts Work in Hockey?

Smelling Salts Work in Hockey

Smelling salts are used in hockey to provide a quick and intense sensory stimulus that helps players snap out of moments of drowsiness, regain mental sharpness, and maintain alertness during the game. Here’s how smelling salts work in hockey:

Ammonia Inhalation

Smelling salts typically contain ammonium carbonate, which is a chemical compound that releases ammonia gas when crushed or broken. When a player breaks a smelling salt capsule or container, the ammonia fumes are released into the air.

Irritation of Nasal Passages

The ammonia gas released from smelling salts irritates the sensitive mucous membranes in the nasal passages. This irritation triggers a reflexive response in the body.

Inhalation Reflex

The irritation in the nasal passages prompts a sharp inhalation reflex. In other words, when a player inhales the pungent ammonia fumes, they involuntarily take a deep breath.

Increased Oxygen Intake

The sharp inhalation that results from the inhalation reflex leads to a sudden increase in oxygen intake. This can have several immediate effects:

Heightened Alertness

The increased oxygen intake can lead to a feeling of heightened alertness and energy. This is especially valuable during the fast-paced, physically demanding nature of hockey games, where players need to be mentally sharp at all times.

Mental Focus

Smelling salts can help players overcome mental fatigue or distractions. They can refocus quickly on the game, make split-second decisions with clarity, and stay engaged in high-pressure situations.

Psychological Boost

The act of using smelling salts can also serve as a psychological boost. Breaking a smelling salt capsule can be part of a player’s pre-game routine, helping them get into the right mindset for competition, enhancing confidence, and preparing mentally for the challenges of the game.

It’s important to note that while smelling salts can provide a short-term mental and sensory boost, they are not a long-term solution for sustained performance. 

Their use should be monitored, and players should avoid excessive reliance on them, as it can have potential health risks, including respiratory irritation and dependency.

Rituals and Superstitions Regarding Smelling Salts in Hockey

Rituals and Superstitions Regarding Smelling Salts in Hockey

Rituals and superstitions regarding smelling salts in hockey are prevalent among players, often stemming from tradition, personal beliefs, or a desire for a mental edge. Here are some detailed points that highlight some of these rituals and superstitions:

Pre-game Ritual

Many hockey players incorporate the use of smelling salts into their pre-game routine. It becomes a ritual they follow religiously before stepping onto the ice. 

Breaking a smelling salt capsule and taking a quick whiff can serve as a symbolic and sensory preparation for the game ahead, helping players mentally gear up for competition.

Psychological Confidence

Some players believe that using smelling salts instills a sense of confidence and invincibility. 

They may see it as a ritual that boosts their self-assurance, helping them believe they are more alert, focused, and ready to perform at their best. This psychological boost can be vital in a sport as mentally demanding as hockey.

Good Luck Charm

Smelling salts can take on the role of a good luck charm for certain players. They might feel that using them before every game brings them luck and ensures a positive outcome. This superstition can lead to a player’s unwavering commitment to using smelling salts as part of their pre-game routine.

Team Unity

In some cases, teams collectively adopt the use of smelling salts as a form of team unity. Players may use them together in the locker room, creating a shared experience that fosters camaraderie and a sense of belonging. This can strengthen the team’s bond and boost morale.

Customized Scents

Some players may prefer specific brands or types of smelling salts with unique scents or packaging. This preference can become a part of their personal ritual. The choice of a particular brand or scent may be based on prior success, comfort, or simply personal preference.

Game-Turning Moments

Smelling salts are sometimes reserved for critical moments in the game, such as overtime or penalty shootouts. Players might use them as a last-minute boost when the pressure is at its peak, hoping for that extra burst of alertness to make a game-changing play.

It’s important to emphasize that these rituals and superstitions regarding smelling salts are highly individualized and can vary from player to player. While some athletes firmly believe in the benefits of these rituals, others may view them as a mental crutch or unnecessary.


Why do hockey players use smelling salts?

Hockey players use smelling salts to quickly regain mental sharpness and alertness during games. The ammonia fumes in smelling salts stimulate the nasal passages, triggering an inhalation reflex that leads to increased oxygen intake. This helps combat drowsiness, maintain focus, and boost energy levels.

Is the use of smelling salts in hockey safe?

When used responsibly and in moderation, smelling salts are generally considered safe. However, excessive use can lead to respiratory irritation and dependency. It’s crucial for players to consult with medical professionals and avoid overreliance on smelling salts.

Do smelling salts enhance physical performance in hockey?

No, smelling salts do not enhance physical performance in terms of strength, speed, or skill. They primarily provide a short-term mental and sensory boost, helping players stay mentally alert and focused.

Are there alternatives to smelling salts for mental alertness in hockey?

Yes, there are alternatives such as controlled breathing exercises, meditation, and mental training techniques that can help players improve mental focus and alertness without the potential risks associated with smelling salts.

Can smelling salts be used in youth or amateur hockey leagues?

The use of smelling salts in youth or amateur hockey leagues is generally discouraged due to potential health risks and the availability of safer alternatives. It’s important for players at all levels to prioritize proper conditioning and mental preparation over-relying on smelling salts.

Wrapping Up

In the fast-paced and demanding world of hockey, smelling salts serve as more than just a pungent remedy. They are a symbol of tradition, a mental boost, and even a good luck charm for some players. 

While their use may vary from player to player, one thing is clear: in the quest for victory on the ice, the unmistakable crack of a smelling salt capsule remains a wake-up call that transcends generations and continues to play a unique role in the world of hockey. 

Whether it’s for a quick jolt of alertness or a touch of superstition, smelling salts have found their place on the frozen battlegrounds, reminding us that sometimes, the simplest traditions can hold the key to success. Best of luck. 

Photo of author

Benjamin Kenyon

With over eight years of experience in higher education, I bring a diverse skill set to the Head Men's Ice Hockey Coach role. My background spans collegiate hockey coaching, recruiting, compliance, budget management, game operations, public and media relations, marketing strategies, content development, social media management, press release distribution, broadcasting, video production, non-linear editing, sports photography, interpersonal communications, sports writing, interviewing, sports analytics, and statistics. My educational credentials include a Master of Arts in Sports Management, further enhancing my qualifications for this position. I am proficient in various software and platforms, including Adobe Creative Suite, social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, LinkedIn), and academic management systems (Salesforce, CAMS, Workday, Banner). My extensive experience and technical proficiency make me a well-rounded candidate for leading the men's ice hockey program.

Leave a Comment