Once the Wild’s starting lineup has been announced, applause succeeds the anthem and puck drop is just seconds away, is when defenseman Carson Soucy lowers his arm on top of the team’s bench to crack open a miniature glass vial.
He waves the red liquid in front of his face twice before shaking his head back and forth. Then Soucy takes another whiff.
“It’s a little bit of a head rush kind of thing,” Soucy said. “It honestly widens your eyes almost. Some days, you feel it more than others. Some days you don’t really notice it. You just do it now because you’ve been doing it for how many years.”
Deploying smelling salts before games isn’t the only puzzling decision NHLers make.
“If you were to eat terrible food, the best time is right after you work out because your body can get rid of it faster. That’s what I was told”
It is just one of the more visible ones.
Behind the scenes, plenty of head-scratching habits dominate hockey — longstanding traditions that serve a purpose even if they look strange or senseless.
“You’re part of a club,” winger Marcus Foligno said. “It just is what it is. This is what happens all over the league.”
Inhaling ammonia is one such staple, a scene that plays out not just in ice rinks but across pro sports.
Historically used to wake someone who has fainted, the concoction (15% ammonia and 35% alcohol) releases a pungent, almost disinfectant-like odor that stimulates the senses.
That a player would need that type of lift right before a game seems peculiar. Not only has everyone had time to warm up, but the challenge looming — along with the energy usually pulsating through the building — could be enough to spike adrenaline and focus.
“I don’t do it,” Foligno said. “I don’t like it. I’m already excited to play.”
But some like the jolt, as defenseman Matt Dumba called it.
“It’s kind of nice,” he said. “Wakes you up.”
More unusual choices happen after the final horn.
After participating in a game that typically takes more than 2½ hours, players wind down by working out.
For 25 to 30 minutes, the Wild athletes exercise by lifting weights and/or riding a stationary bike — a sight that’s jarring since they should be ready for a break.
This effort isn’t a punishment. It’s to help them recover and build strength. And when players lift at night, they can skip the weights the next day and feel refreshed for the ensuing game.
“I’d rather be a little bit more sore for a practice or a little bit more tired for a practice than a game,” winger Jason Zucker said.
What players also get after competing is food.
Until this season, that was normally pizza on the road. Now, wraps, fruits and vegetables are offered.
“It’s been a sore topic for the guys,” Foligno said.
There are a few exceptions, such as Montreal’s signature hot dogs in a toasted bun, wings in Buffalo, barbecue in St. Louis and sushi in Vancouver. If approved by the team, In-N-Out Burger might show up in Southern California.
Still, greasy pies are standard, despite being an odd snack for health-conscious athletes. But the reasoning is simple: The slice is easy to eat on the run to replenish energy.
“It’s actually smart to put something in your body right away,” Foligno said. “If you were to eat terrible food, the best time is right after you work out because your body can get rid of it faster. That’s what I was told.”
In other instances, though, it’s difficult to see how an approach a team adopts will actually make it improve.
Take the recent players-only meeting in Montreal, where captain Mikko Koivu addressed his teammates after a gruesome 4-0 loss Oct. 17 that dropped the Wild to 1-6.
This tactic is used occasionally when times get tough, but that a professional would need a talking-to from a peer to perform better could come across as a stretch. Yet these talks can spark a turnaround, as evidenced by the Wild’s 3-1 showing since its chat.
“It’s like no hard feelings, hold people accountable, call people out,” Foligno said. “But do it in a setting where it’s just the guys.”
A bag skate can have the same effect even though it’s the team’s play with the puck that’s probably the problem.
“It mentally makes you feel better,” center Eric Staal said. “Sometimes, in this business, that’s more than half the battle.”
And that’s what appears to be at the heart of these quirks: They’re familiar steps that can ease the pressure of the job.
“If you really break it down,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said, “the vast majority of things that go on are just routines that are making guys feel comfortable.”