For five weeks this summer the youth of Mistissini will be treated to a regimen of hard work and healthy living as they take part in Westlake Hockey Development summer camp for six weeks.

Co-founder and director Carl Michaelson, who hails from Hudson, Quebec, has been playing hockey since the age of six. His devotion and leadership has led him to the creation of a hockey development camp.

A 2004 graduate of Hobart College in Geneva, New York, Michaelson began his professional career in France playing for Clermont-Ferrand in the Elite League. The following year he played for Le Vésinet in the Second League and was one of the league’s leading defenseman before suffering a concussion that kept him out of the 2006-07 season.

Michaelson returned to Europe in 2007 and joined the Belgian Elite League where he led Turnhout to victories in both the Belgian Cup and Belgian Championship. This past season, he was back in France playing for Deuil-Garges. According to Michaelson, he is now retiring from professional hockey after accepting an assistant coaching job with his alma mater.

Recently Michaelson spoke to the Nation about bringing his work ethic to Mistissini and what that means for the Cree youth.

The Nation: How long have you been doing this?

Carl Michaelson: This will be the first time we head up north. But we’ve had players come down from the Cree communities for the last few summers. We tried to get something started for last summer but we couldn’t manage it but kept in contact with them and set up something for this summer.

TN: What inspired you to get involved with hockey development up north?

CM: It’s a great opportunity. I really cherish Native culture but I don’t know much about it. As a kid I went to a summer camp and that was based on Native culture.

TN: How do you immerse yourself in such a different culture?

CM: I’ve spent the last 11 years away from home, be it at boarding school, university or playing hockey in France so I’m very independent. I’m always prepared for a new opportunity and destination. I’m looking forward to the challenge and the learning experience.

TN: How many kids will be participating in the program?

CM: I’ve been communicating with everyone up there and we set the cut-off at 30. With our programs we cater to the elite. We’re very specific, very detailed and focus on all the dimensions on and off the ice. We have different personnel who will be coming in to help with the program and to help with individual development so we can’t have too many players. If things go well we will expand to include more players but for now we are just focusing on the elite. And it’s not just about hockey, it’s about leading a healthy lifestyle, eating properly and taking care of yourself.

TN: You talk about healthy lifestyles – your mother is a nutritionist and will be accompanying you, right?

CM: That’s right. My mom has been involved in the global fitness industry for many years, and she’s well known and respected within the industry. She’s been studying to be a naturopath to give her a better understanding of the human anatomy. When she speaks we make sure to have the parents as well as the youth there so that everyone understands the benefits to good eating.

TN: How important is it for the youth to be part of this kind of program?

CM: It’s very important to have kids involved in sports, be it basketball, hockey or any team sport for that matter. Teach them team leadership, chemistry, respect and even sports psychology – it’s a very positive atmosphere for kids to be in. Teaching these skills will hopefully help them make better decisions and lead them to better lifestyles.

TN: So life skills are very much a part of this program?

CM: Absolutely and that goes for anyone who teaches, coaches or runs a hockey program. When you look at other sports like basketball, football and baseball and hear of players getting into trouble, you don’t get very much of that in hockey and I think that’s because there’s a more respect or modesty level in minor hockey. That’s a testament to all the teachers and coaches out there. We want to add to that and be as positive as possible for the players. In the end, we are doing it for them.