Eddie Belfour to play in Crested Butte?
by Than Acuff
The West Elk Hockey Association (WEHA) is bringing a new level of hockey to the Gunnison Valley as WEHA hockey director Joey Otsuka introduces the Monarch Cup, a two-team league pitting Gunnison against Crested Butte all winter long.
“I’ve been toying with the idea for about a year,” says Otsuka. “We wanted to provide something for the community and the ‘elite level’ players in the valley.”
Otsuka has a long history in the sport of hockey, including working a couple of seasons with the Dallas Stars organization. He moved to the Gunnison Valley two years ago and has been deeply embedded in the local hockey scene ever since playing in both the Crested Butte and Gunnison adult leagues as well as coaching the Crested Butte high school hockey team and becoming the hockey director for WEHA.
During his first two years, Otsuka has noticed a significant rivalry between teams from Crested Butte and teams from Gunnison. In addition, he’s noticed a level of player in the valley that exceeds leagues currently available in both Crested Butte and Gunnison and a passion for the sport that transcends both communities.
“Just playing in the comp leagues and town leagues, there are definitely enough players to put a good product on the ice,” says Otsuka.
As a result, he has developed the Monarch Cup for the 2016-2017 season.
“Reigniting that rivalry will be very interesting,” says Otsuka. “We have such an enthusiastic hockey community.”
The Monarch Cup league is made up of two teams, one representing Gunnison and one representing Crested Butte. Each team will have a captain—Crested Butte’s is Deuce Wynes and Gunnison’s is still pending. Week in and week out the teams will stay relatively the same; 12 to 15 skaters and the two teams will play each other a total of nine times throughout the season starting Sunday, October 23 to determine the Monarch Cup champion.
Games will be held Sundays throughout the winter in both Gunnison and Crested Butte and will be structured just like a professional game with three 15-minute periods.
“We want to make it just like professional games; we won’t be charging admission or anything but there will be concessions and we’re hoping to draw some crowds,” says Otsuka.
Furthermore, Otsuka hopes that the existence of the Monarch Cup will provide incentive for fledgling local hockey players who maybe started their careers later in life to continue working on their game and eventually make a Monarch Cup team.
While teams will be geographically determined, Otsuka is asking the two team captains to keep the discussion open as to who plays for what team, to keep teams as equal as possible.
Case in point, Otsuka. While a resident of Gunnison, word on the street is a 24-year-old Division I player with semi-pro experience has moved to Gunnison, so in the interest of parity, Otsuka will be suiting up for Crested Butte. Two or three years from now, NHL Hall of Fame goaltender Eddie Belfour may be dressing for Crested Butte, as he is rumored to have purchased land on Red Mountain and looks to build there in the next year or so.
“He won’t play in net, though,” says Otsuka. “But his son might.”
The opening game is on Sunday, October 23 in Gunnison, with games continuing until March. Captains will have until October 23 to put together their team, so keep your ear open for “the call” up to the Cup in the next month.