John Taft remembers his father building a small rink in the front yard of their southwest Minneapolis house when he was four years old. He learned to skate on that rink, pushing a chair in front of him for balance. Taft kept that chair and 34 years later his children first learned to skate pushing the same chair. Taft quickly learned to skate without the chair and his abilities as an offensive defensemen led him to a Minnesota State High School Championship, two NCAA Championships, Captain of the 1976 Olympic Team and playing in the NHL for the Detroit Red Wings.
Pershing Park was Taft’s home rink and his organized hockey career began with the SWAC Park Board Team before he moved on to the Southwest Peewees and then Bantams. He was a true rink rat and recalls spending all winter at Pershing Park with Mike Dibble and the Hall of Fame Lundeen brothers, often eating dinner at the Lundeen house before heading back to Pershing.
Taft played three years of varsity hockey for Southwest High School, winning the State Championship as a sophomore in 1970 and being named to the All- Tournament Team in 1971 and 1972. He then moved on to Wisconsin, not only winning the 1973 NCAA Championship as a freshman, but also being named to the All-Tournament Team. Taft played three seasons for Wisconsin while also playing each year for the U.S. National Team in the World Championships, where he was named to the 1974 All-Tournament Team. He then took the 1975-76 season off from Wisconsin to play for and be Captain of the 1976 U.S. Olympic Team. Taft returned to Wisconsin for his senior season where he again led Wisconsin to the NCAA Tournament and was again named to the All-Tournament Team. Taft finished his Wisconsin career with 36 goals and 95 assists in 129 games.
Taft had been drafted 81st overall in the 1974 draft by the Detroit Red Wings and also by the WHA’s Phoenix team. After graduating from Wisconsin he played briefly for the Red Wings during the 1978-79 season, ultimately retiring as a player in 1983. Taft emphasizes how fortunate he was to grow up in the perfect hockey climate of southwest Minneapolis and also playing for legendary coaches and fellow Minneapolis Hockey Hall of Famers Dave Peterson at Southwest and Bob Johnson at Wisconsin. Taft currently resides in Edina, Minnesota with his wife Mary while their children, Jenny Gilroy (Matt) and Charlie, live in Los Angeles, CA.