Soccer doesn’t have it. Football doesn’t have it. Baseball and basketball can’t possibly have it. Even lacrosse doesn’t have it.
While all sports have their smell – a particular mix of equipment-borne sweat that is specific to the sport’s endeavor and environment – only hockey has The Stink.
More sensation than odor, The Stink is something that can only be born in the alternating petri dishes of the rink and the sealed, neglected hockey bag. The Stink is distinct – it marks the sport and the people who play it, and while it is universal, each player has his or her own variation, like a fingerprint or a snowflake.
It would be easy enough to break down the chemistry of The Stink as a mix of sweat, snow, shower steam and a bacterial action that is specific to the rubberized nylon hockey bag, but that would be like describing a fine wine as grapes and yeast. There is more to The Stink than its chemistry. It is the olfactory manifestation of deep, elusive, almost incomprehensible meaning.
Those who did not grow up with The Stink and who first encounter it as adults become preoccupied with it. It is the obsession of the novice hockey mom. To her it is an offensive, beguiling thing that cannot be understood, can never be mastered. She asks why it is. She wonders how to live with it. She seeks remedies for it that cannot be found.
There are solutions for its cousins The Rash and The Itch, but The Stink is always there, and like the cockroach, always will be. Chemists play with active carbons, silver ions and other molecular manipulations designed to eat smells and defeat fungus, but The Stink cannot be beaten, nor should it.
For those of us who play the game, The Stink is not an offense to be remediated. It is a badge. If national anthems were smells, this would be ours.
You will leave here one day, perhaps even leave the game for a while. You must, for it’s only on your return that can you come close to unraveling The Stink’s encoded message. In that reflective, wet and exhausted state of your first game back you will relish the nostalgia: the familiar sights of smiling faces, the peeling paint and that cherished, decrepit piece of a teammate’s equipment; the sounds of joyful banter, set against the cacophony of popping cans, as plays are deconstructed through the revisionist biases of the winners and losers.
Sights and sounds, however, have nothing on olfactory memory. It is the reactivated alchemy of The Stink that will push you back further and reveal deeper meaning. The Stink will recall to you in an instant all of your victories and virtues, your failures and failings, your bonds and your battles, stretching back almost to the beginning.
In that instant you will finally understand: The Stink is the story of your life, so far, told more succinctly and completely than ever could be done in words or pictures. It’s you, in all your complexity and dysfunctional uniqueness, explained in a flash, delivered in a package that those who do not play will only experience as a smell.
Let’s play some hockey.
~The Kaslo Jamboree~