From his seat at STAPLES Center, Randy Rota was in awe of the hockey on the ice. The game has certainly changed a lot since the former winger played for the LA Kings, nearly fifty years ago.
"It's a new era," Rota said. "It's so unbelievably fast and impressive now."
Rota, who played 58 games for the Kings in the 1973-74 campaign, hadn't seen the team play since he last suited up for them.
"The idea that I was at a Kings game was a little bit unbelievable," he said. "Never thought that would happen. It's been over forty years."
Watching the Kings and Oilers, Rota, who played for both clubs during his career, couldn't help but feel nostalgic. The only thing that was different was the rink.
"If it would have been the Forum, it probably would have felt a little different," he said.
While Rota's time in Los Angeles was brief, he has fond memories of playing at the fabulous Forum.
One thing has remained with him after all these years is a game in which he got behind Bobby Orr on a breakaway, no small feat, and scored.
"He was so upset," Rota said. "I think he thought the play was offside."
Although Orr usually kept his emotions in check on the ice, Rota remembers the Bruins superstar losing his temper. "He went up to his own goal and smashed his stick over the net and broke it in half," he said.
But it's not Orr's outburst that stuck with him all this time, it's the fact that, offside or not, he managed to score a goal with one of the game's greatest players on the ice. "I always thought that was kind of cool," Rota said.
Another time, Rota happened to get lucky after he scored. Following one of his 10 goals with the Kings, he can recall celebrating behind the net and just seconds after he skated away, the goal light came crashing down.
"The red light fell on the ice and just missed my heat," he said. "Kind of a weird moment."
But that wasn't Rota's only near miss at the Forum. One time, when the Kings hosted the Flyers, Rota was pinned up against the boards and swung his arm back to hit whomever hit him from behind. Once he wiggled himself free and turned around, he realized it was Dave Schultz, one of the most fearsome "Broad Street Bullies."
"He kind of had this gorilla look on his face,'" Rota said. Luckily for Rota, the Kings' Dan Maloney and Gilles Marotte both intervened and he managed to escape without getting clobbered by the "Hammer."
Following his time with Kings, Rota played two full season with the expansionist Kansas City Scouts before finishing his pro career with Edmonton in the World Hockey Association.
Rota had hoped to return to the Oilers for the 1978-79 season, which would see Wayne Gretzky join the club just eight games into the campaign, but he didn't end up attending training camp because he was without a contract.
"Maybe they did me a favour because, as it turned out, I had 32 years in finance as a financial advisor," Rota said.
While Rota enjoyed his career in finance back home in Kamloops, British Columbia, he preferred playing hockey a lot more, and found ways to stay in the game. After retiring, he got behind the bench at the minor hockey level and had the opportunity to coach future Hall of Famer Mark Recchi.
He was also quite involved in the hockey career of his son, Blair, who played junior for the Kamloops Blazers before spending a couple seasons playing minor pro with the San Antonio Iguanas of the Central Hockey League.
Although Rota still has a passion for hockey, most of his time these days is spent playing golf. For the past four years, he spends a few months in Palm Springs to escape the winter and work on his golf game.
When he returns to California again next season, he said he would consider going to another Kings game, but on one condition.
"Maybe if somebody else was driving," he said. "The experience driving into LA gave me second thoughts. The traffic was a zoo."
Rota hasn't lived in Los Angeles for 46 years, but it's clear somethings never change.