Twelve-year old Judith Neeposh of Mistissini will soon get her first taste of international hockey competition. A member of the Cree Nation Bears AAA Girls Under-14 hockey team, Judith was recently invited to travel in January to Saco, Maine, where she will try out for a spot on the East Coast Selects. If she makes the team, Judith will have the opportunity to travel to Europe with the Selects next spring to compete against some of the best young female hockey players in the world.

Judith comes from a hockey family. Her father Kevin played in the QMJHL and her cousin Silas Neeposh is currently in training camp with the QMJHL Chicoutimi Saguenéens. But as far as Kevin Neeposh is concerned, good hockey genes have had little to do with his daughter’s success. For this hockey dad, the secret of his daughter’s early hockey success has been discipline, hard work and participation in a recent hockey camp managed by Westlake Hockey Development.

The brainchild of Carl Michaelson, assistant coach of the Hobart College Statesmen of the NCAA’s ECAC West conference, and Matthew Lombardi, of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, Westlake Hockey Development offers hockey programs that assist young players at all levels to improve not only their hockey game, but also their physical conditioning, personal discipline, lifestyle choices and participation in the community.

For the fifth straight summer, Westlake conducted a five-week hockey program in Mistissini which was attended by over 60 young players ranging in age from 9 to 17. While the program includes a great deal of ice time for the young participants, running drills and playing in scrimmages is only one part of the program.

“The idea is to offer a full development program and provide the kids with access to high-end coaches and instructors. We offer everything to do with hockey on and off ice,” explains Michaelson. “But there is more to it than that. When you sum it all up, our program is all about what is to be an adult – to live a healthy lifestyle, to learn respect and be decent human beings.”

Michaelson backs up his philosophy with strong credentials. A graduate of Hobart College, where he also played four seasons of NCAA hockey, Michaelson has extensive experience in strength and conditioning, and has instructed players on topics such as health and wellness, sports psychology, injury prevention, performance training, stride development, speed and agility, hockey skills training, and movement and performance analysis. He has also spent time coaching elite level hockey teams. But for both Michaelson and hockey dad Kevin Neeposh, perhaps the most important aspects of the program are those that teach personal discipline and instill a sense of community responsibility and pride in the young players.

“Every day of the program we spend hours doing community activities,” said Michaelson. “We break the kids into groups and have them go around picking up garbage, cleaning up the town. We want them to realize that ‘this is your town, be proud of it!’ The idea is for them to definitely realize that they must take care of their community. They need to learn values and then see the value in applying what they have learned in their daily lives.”

Other community activities that participants in the Westlake camp have organized include a car wash to raise money for a family where the mother is battling cancer, and spending time with Elders in the community, learning and participating in a number of traditional activities.

“One of the things that we see today is that it is tough for young Crees to learn about their culture and heritage,” said Michaelson. “We want to keep them active and participating. Crees have a phenomenal culture and we try to get the kids involved with activities and work with the Elders, and it is a lot of fun.”

The young players participating in the Westlake Hockey Development camp are also required to maintain a daily journal for the duration of the five-week camp, where among other things, they are asked to write down everything they eat on a daily basis. Keeping the journal not only impacts the young player, but also their family.

“Sometimes when we cook, she says no, we are not supposed to eat that,” says Neeposh with a laugh. “It has taught her good values and how to train, and what to eat.”

“Not only do we ask them to write down what they eat, but recognize how they feel after they eat,” adds Michaelson. “And once they give us back those journals, we discuss that with the kids. You can train as hard as you want but if you don’t have proper nutrition, it is tougher to succeed. It is all about what you put into your body.”

Indeed, the Westlake Hockey Development program has had a major impact on young Judith’s overall fitness. Over the course of the five-week program, Judith lost 10 lbs and has continued to follow the training programs she first learned from her Westlake instructors.

“My daughter has gained a big edge with Westlake,” said Neeposh. “She has lost 10 lbs and is eating better. And she is still training, running, doing her bike – whatever Westlake taught her to do. I give credit to Westlake. They have helped her also really improve in her skating and puck handling and that has made the difference in her getting selected to go to Maine.”

Given Westlake’s success during its five summers in Mistissini, it is not surprising that Michaelson plans on expanding programs both in length and reach.

“I am really happy with the job our instructors have done in Mistissini. We have added a goalie instructor, and we want to double the size of the camp to 60 skaters and eight goalies per age group,” says Michaelson. “Right now, we are only in Mistissini. But, we think it is no brainer to try to grow the program in other communities. I think it is a great opportunity for kids in other communities to come and participate.”

If Judith Neeposh’s recent success is any indication, Westlake Hockey Development hockey camps will be warmly welcomed in many communities across Quebec and Ontario.