I guess everyone whose friends like different sports has had this conversation before.
Its kind of an adult version of the 'my dad could beat up your dad' idea: Which sports players are really the best?
I'm as resolutely biased in this game as I was in the kids' version: hockey players are the ultimate sportsmen and my Dad could totally take yours.
However, I think I'm slightly more justified in championing the athletic prowess of the Gretzkys and Messiers of this world than I was in believing in the decidedly lacklustre fighting skills of a certain Mr. Parry.
To start, hockey players prove their worth—and prove it often.
Not only is the Stanley Cup the hardest sporting trophy to win in terms of playing hours if nothing else. In the climax of the playoffs, a team can be playing four games a week, with the possibility of extensive overtime making that mountain ever more difficult to climb.
This makes the soccer world's week between final legs seem positively pathetic.
It's not just the post-season either. From September to April, the schedules look almost as gruelling, with the struggle to fit in 82 games throwing up some hectic months.
And not just that—they're tough.
Though I've never actually been hit by a Canadian brick wall moving at speed, I can imagine that it is neither pleasant nor trivial. Yet these guys react most of the time as if they've merely had a small pillow thrown at them.
Even when the force of the hit is too much to be denied, they still carry on.
For a brilliant example of this resilience, check out the video of Sami Kapanen getting sent into orbit by Darcy Tucker from a few years ago. He was laid out to the point of unconsciousness and with little to no idea where he was. Kapanen still managed to drag his mangled frame to the bench, allowing Forsberg to swiftly replace him and score.
It's a far cry from most sports stars, who throw themselves to the floor screaming because someone looked at them harshly.
Yet this toughness isn't enough.
There's a name for players who rely solely on physical presence in the game and its very telling. These 'goons' lack the intricate puck-handling skills needed to reach the very top.
To succeed in hockey, you have to cradle the puck like a particularly ill kitten, play with it gently, then send it into warp speeds milliseconds later.
If you can do this while deking through defense like a warm knife through butter, then score while you're on your back and facing the boards—that's just peachy.
The glue that holds these opposing attributes of strength and gentleness together in the perfect cadence is intelligence. A good hockey player not only pulls tricks and lays people out, but knows when to do which.
This intelligence shows itself in their public appearances and post-match interviews. I'm not saying they could explain the theory of relativity, but they've got grey matter where its needed and their vocabularies tend to extend somewhat further than the phrase "at the end of the day".
All this is held together by a gentlemanly conduct that necessitates respect and gives it back in equal measure. It's a cliche now that "what happens on the ice, stays on the ice", but it's one that is thankfully still around and for the most part, still true (with the notable exceptions of Patrick Roy and Sean Avery).
However, the thing that really raises hockey players in our esteem is their ability to do all this with a sense of fun and a pure love for the sport.
The things they might have to do aren't always easy, but like all good dads, they make it look like a walk in the park.
In fact, age and rational thinking have overturned my original, naively but strongly held belief.
In the cold light of day, it's true, though it may be difficult to say: hockey players could definitely beat up my dad.