Rota relishing his return to home turf

Not sure what Lyn Hall is up to this morning but the unofficial 'Mayor of P.G.' plans on teeing off in the 12th Commonwealth Cup golf tournament at Aberdeen Glen.

Darcy Rota is known by that nickname among his buddies with the Vancouver Canucks alumni and a group of them will be among the 150 golfers taking part in the event to raise money for the United Way of Northern B.C.

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"For me it's a chance to come back to Prince George, which I've always considered my home," said Rota. "When people ask where I was raised I always say Prince George. It's always been very important to me and my family."

Rota, 66, was born in Vancouver in 1953 but moved to Prince George when he was 11 and spent his formative years in the city until he left to play junior hockey in the Western Canada Junior Hockey League for the Edmonton Oil Kings, after a year of junior B with the Prince George Texaco Chiefs.. He went right from junior to the Chicago Black Hawks, who drafted him 13th overall in 1973 and played 13 NHL seasons - six with the 'Hawks, two with the Atlanta Flames and the last five with the Canucks.

Rota's father Ralph Rota was a partner with Stan Wettlaufer in a car dealership in the city, and Darcy and his brother Brad still own commercial properties in P.G. with Wettlaufer's son Bill. Ralph and his wife Joyce lived in Prince George until they moved to White Rock in 1984. Both have since passed away.

Darcy discovered his love for golf when he was 12, along with his brother Brad at Prince George Golf and Curling Club, where their parents used to go often. He played golf throughout his hockey career and now as a member of Vancouver Golf Club his handicap rarely strays beyond two or three. Rota had knee replacement surgery a year ago which kept him off the course for a few weeks but he's back to his old sharp-shooting self again heading into today's tournament, which was revived last year after a six-year hiatus.

"I've been up a couple times for it and our alumni always gets treated first class," said Rota. "It's completely sold out and there's a lot of excitement about the event. Giving back is always important and it's going to be a great couple days while our group's there.

"This is special year to come back to Prince George. Fifty years ago the triple-A team I was on, the midget Kings, won the B.C. midget championship. That was the year the Coliseum was condemned (because the roof was deemed unsafe) and we were hosting, so we had to play the midget championship in Vanderhoof and we beat Trail for the championship."

The Canuck Alumni Association is starting a new scholarship for the Cariboo region under Rota's name - a $1,000 annual award handed out by Hockey BC to a deserving high school student, male or female, who also plays hockey. Similar scholarship programs will be established in four other regions of the province which commemorate former Canucks, including Northwest (Dan Hamhuis), Vancouver Island (Willie Mitchell), Kootenays (Caesar Maniago) and the Okanagan (Doug Lidster).

Former Canuck defenceman Dennis Kearns is also entered in today's tournament. Kearns loves golf but considers himself a recreational player, nowhere near as skilled on the course as Rota.

"I really like the game but I'm not good enough to ever get mad," Kearns said. "I have fun. I know I'll have the odd par and some disasters but it doesn't upset me.

"Darcy's a player, he's very steady. He hits it out of the middle of the clubface. He's a real nice player, unlike myself or Garry Monahan. The rest of us are plumbers compared to Darcy."

Rota, Kearns and Monahan, along with Dennis Ververgaert, Ed Hatoum and Garry Monahan, are the former Canucks involved in the best-ball tournament, which begins at 10 a.m. with a shotgun start. Former BCTV sportscaster Bernie Pascall will emcee the tournament festivities.

Goalie Richard Brodeur, who backstopped the Canucks' first run to the Stanley Cup final in 1982, was initially on the list of Commonwealth Cup golfers but was a late scratch. After he retired from hockey in 1989, Brodeur turned his full-time attentions to oil painting, focusing on outdoor hockey rink scenes. He sent an original painting with a hockey theme to Prince George, which will be auctioned today.

Kearns, a five-foot-eight, 182-pound native of Kingston, Ont., played 10 seasons with the Canucks, joining them in their second season in the NHL in 1971-72, but missed out on the Canucks' big playoff run in '82 when he lost his job on the blueline heading into that season. When asked what ended his career, Kearns responded: "Harry Neale.

"He and I didn't get along and the coach is the boss. I thought I could have played another few years but he didn't, so that was it.

"That's happened to a lot better players than me. In fairness to Harry Neale, the NHL at that time was looking for players who were big and strong and could fight and were physical to compete with the Philadelphia Flyers and I just wasn't that type of player. My style probably would have fit better in today's hockey than the '70's and '80s. I tell people I wore glasses only for reading and fighting."

The Canucks won the Smythe Division in 1974-75 and earned a first-round bye, then had to take on the powerhouse Montreal Canadiens in Round 2. Not surprisingly, the Canucks were swept in a four-game series.

"One of my teammates (Gerry O'Flaherty) said: 'Bye in the first, bye-bye in the second.'"

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