Eleven seasons into his NHL career, Rota, the pride of Prince George, B.C., was a staple up front for the Vancouver Canucks, the team he adored growing up.
At 5-foot-11 and 180-pounds, Rota didn’t have imposing as an attribute on his hockey resume, but his toughness and grit, paired with deceptively good offensive skills, made him the type of character player that championship teams are made of.
Rota proved his worth time and time again with the Canucks, especially in the run to Vancouver’s first Stanley Cup appearance in 19892 as he chipped in with six goals and three assists in 17 games. The following season, Rota, thanks to some help from linemates Stan Smyl and Thomas Gradin, exploded for 81 points in 73 games to annihilate his former career-high of 56.
Up to this point, everything was going as planned for Rota. Then, in February of 1984, his world was flipped upside down.
It started with a hit from a Los Angeles forward in front of the Kings goal. Rota suffered a neck injury that, thought to be healed a short while later, was aggravated in a fight the following month. He missed the last handful of games to end the season, but was back to his old self in time for playoffs.
The injury, however, never fully healed and Rota went under the knife for spinal fusion surgery in June of 1984. He was expected to miss just a month and a half before doctors came to the conclusion that playing hockey was no longer an option; permanent damage to the neck was a serious risk of returning to the NHL.
At age 31, Rota was forced from the ice. He made his departure official in December of 1984 when he hung up his skates for good.
“The worst part of hockey isn’t being sent down or traded because at least you can still play, the injuries are the worst part,” said Rota, who will be recognized by the Canucks when Vancouver hosts Edmonton on December 26th.
“I would have liked to have played longer, I was really enjoying playing, and after the surgery I thought with the way I was feeling that I’d be fine to come back and play. Unfortunately, I knew the final step for me would be contact and that’s when I realized it wasn’t going to work.”
That’s also when Rota realized that it wasn’t playing in the NHL he loved, it was hockey in general.
Rota was quick to move from digging for loose pucks in the corners to a corner office in the public relations department in the Canucks front office. That was one of the various positions he served with the team, which also included time as the Director of Player Development, until he was lured to the NHL to work as an assistant to league president John Ziegler.
In 1994 Rota returned to the Canucks and took his talents in front of the cameras working as a commentator on CanucksTV, alongside Jim Robson.
All that experience led Rota to the BCHL, where he has worked for the past 12 years. He coached the expansion Burnaby Bulldogs for two seasons prior to becoming president, general manager and part-owner of the expansion Coquitlam Express, who became the Burnaby Express and are now back in Coquitlam.
Add it all up and Rota has been involved in hockey in one way or another for the past 47 years.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be involved with hockey my whole career, it’s pretty neat. Hockey has given me everything. It’s given me the opportunity to…it’s given me everything.
“Having a chance to stay involved with a game that’s just been a huge part of my life is pretty amazing and if someone would have said I’d have this opportunity as a youngster growing up to be involved with sports and be involved with hockey through my career as a player and then post-career, I would have said absolutely, that’d be great.”
In the big picture, turns out everything has gone as planned for Darcy Rota.