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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

'Jacks Taft chooses Colorado College

Charlie Taft
posted a sensational rookie United States Hockey League season with the Muskegon Lumberjacks and he recently parlayed that breakout campaign into a commitment to play hockey at Colorado College.

Taft, a 19-year-old Edina, Minn., native, accepted a scholarship to play for the WCHA institution beginning this fall. A strong-skating winger, Taft finished fourth for the Jacks with 17 goals and is thrilled that he will play numerous games this season in his home state and in front of his family.

“I wouldn’t be in the situation I’m in right now without the USHL and the Lumberjacks,” Taft said. “The 60 rigorous games I played in helped me develop my game and get used to greater physicality than I’d ever faced.”

“When you play for the Lumberjacks, you’ll get the opportunity – as long as you work hard – to develop into a player who goes to the top schools and the best schools,” Lumberjacks owner Josh Mervis said.

Taft captained Edina High School to a Minnesota state championship about a year ago. While he had conversations with Colorado College for about two years, the discussions intensified as he filled the box score for Muskegon.

“For whatever reason, things were quiet for him college-wise, coming off a state title at Edina,” Lumberjacks head coach Kevin Patrick said. “We were lucky enough to draft him and he just continually got better.”

Chris LaCombe, the Jacks’ scout in Minnesota, pegged Taft several years ago and battled for the team to draft him in the fourth round of the 2010 USHL Entry Draft with the 51st pick overall.

LaCombe knew Taft had and still has tons of upside, and the fleet-footed winger steadily delivered.

“Charlie’s willingness to compete for pucks and for ice continued to grow as the year went on, and it’s a testimony to what the USHL forces players to have to do to be successful,” Patrick said. “He learned to put his size and strength to his advantage and learned to work for contact. You have to battle for ice. You don’t score 17 goals in this league without the willingness to go to the hard areas.”

Taft says he’ll miss his teammates most, but he also relished the chance to play for a dedicated coach who spent five years in the WCHA as the assistant coach of the Wisconsin Badgers.

“Coach Patrick was a great hands-on coach and helped me develop my game,” Taft said. “With his experience at the college level, he knows what it takes to not only get there, but be successful.”

Patrick points to Taft’s natural strength as one of his best attributes. Taft pays the credit forward to Jacks assistant coach Dave Noel-Bernier and the certified strength trainer’s innovative workout program.

“All of Coach Noel-Bernier’s workouts were different,” Taft said. “They were very tough, I must say, but they did their job. That’s a big reason I had success this year was Bernie helping me get stronger.”

Taft’s hockey career appears to be on the fast track. He’s focused on putting one skate in front of the other. He knows if he doesn’t look too far forward, anything is possible.

“To play in the NHL is the dream for everyone,” Taft said. “Now I’ve taken the next step to get there. It’s a long road, but regardless of where it is, I want to be playing hockey until I grow old.”

Patrick admits that Taft’s departure is bittersweet for the Jacks.

“We’re very excited for Charlie,” Patrick said. “Selfishly, it’s tough to see him moving on after just one year with us. But developing student-athletes on and off the ice for opportunities beyond Muskegon is why we’re here and what we’re about. What a great honor for Charlie to play for a program of that caliber.”

The 13th-ranked Colorado College Tigers lost 2-1 to the eventually national title runner-up Michigan Wolverines in the recent Frozen Four tournament.

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