Nothing like a good sweat from a great game. But then there’s the smelly hockey gear…
By Fred Sommer
If you’re of a certain age, I’m sure you’ve heard these lyrics from the Lynyrd Skynyrd song: “Ooooh, that smell. Can’t you smell that smell…?”
As a hockey player, no doubt you’ve visited a hockey locker room or two, and you probably would have thought that Skynyrd had some hockey experience in their background. Certainly, I would have bet that his inspiration came from the scent of smelly hockey gear that results from sweat-soaked hockey uniforms and equipment. Only hockey players can appreciate—well, perhaps understand is a better word—what I’m talking about. On second thought, there is nothing anyone can really appreciate about this.
Put It in the Wash?
I play in a recreational hockey league, typically about once a week, rarely more often than that. After every game, when I get home I take all my equipment out of my bag and hang each piece up on a pegboard in my garage to dry out. My uniform goes straight into the washing machine.
I, however, seem to be in the minority of those who do that. Most guys will take off their uniforms and equipment, stuff them all into their hockey bags and close the zipper—end of story. The bags remain out of sight until their next game and nothing gets washed or hung out to dry. But despite being out of sight, they can’t remain out of mind. The scent of smelly hockey gear that soon develops and begins to emanate from these air-tight enclosures cannot be ignored. It finds you, makes your eyes water, and could send even the hardiest of souls hunting for a porcelain god to pray to.
The Fermentation Process
Scheduling conflicts often result in longer hiatuses between games, sometimes more than two weeks. That’s when things can get really nasty. After that length of time, the fermentation process that converts the raw materials of sweat into ammonia has been completed. But here’s the interesting part. Ammonia is used as a cleaning product, usually on floors. However, I have seen uniforms that have actually turned yellow from sweat stains over time due to these neglectful habits. How does that work?
Well, the fact that one’s uniform hasn’t seen a washing machine probably has something to do with that. My rec hockey league requires two sets of jerseys and socks—usually a white and a dark color, representing home and visitor, respectively. They never mention an alternate third jersey for marketing purposes such as the yellowed, nausea-inducing jerseys described above.
Add Some BenGay
Many players in our league are, shall we put it nicely, of advanced years (that means old farts, some just a year or two away from collecting social security. Even I, who am nowhere near retirement age, receive an AARP membership invitation every two weeks). Older players will typically slather on copious quantities of BenGay to the muscles they are trying to coax into movement before the game. Add the essence of wintergreen fragrance of BenGay to that pungent aroma of ammonia and you’ve really got something that will likely never escape your olfactory memory.
I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before Ben & Jerry’s concocts a new ice-cream flavor to remind you of that nasal sensation. Here are a few proposed names for this tasty frozen treat:
Lady Gag-a, Sweat Equity, Old Yeller Shirt, and my personal favorite, Hockey Socks and Jocks Rock-y Road.
So if you’re planning on entering a hockey locker room and have never experienced the above, be sure to bring some Visine and goggles for your eyes, and splash on a gallon or two of cologne or perfume (I was not about to suggest toilet water). I can’t imagine how that could make things any better.
Fred Sommer is Manager, R&D Engineer at a large pharmaceutical firm. He is captain of his rec league hockey team.