FARGO – On Aug. 29, 2012, Fargo Force center Blake Lizotte was 14 years old and watching the U.S. Open with his dad. Lizotte had learned tennis, along with hockey, from his dad, who coached him before high school.
On. Aug. 30, 2012, Lizotte woke up to his mom screaming. His father, who suffered from epilepsy, was dead, not even four months after his 45th birthday.
"He'd get seizures occasionally. His brain couldn't take it anymore and he basically passed away in his sleep," Lizotte said. "It was disbelief at the moment. You don't really realize what's going on until a few hours later, and it kind of hits you. This is real. It's not something fake. It's definitely hard, but I think God gave me peace that day and got me through it."
He's not here, but Lizotte knows exactly what his dad would say if he saw him play hockey today.
"He's definitely proud," Lizotte said. "He'd probably be more proud of the person I am off the ice. Sports is just a small part of this world. There's definitely more to life than sports."
Lizotte heads into the weekend matchup with Omaha at Scheels Arena third among rookies in scoring in the United States Hockey League with 40 points. He's second in scoring on a Force team that sits two points ahead of Sioux Falls for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with seven games to play.
"I think he does his family proud each and every day," Force coach Cary Eades said. "He's a hard worker. He's very consistent. He's really reliable. That's all you can control. He's quietly a leader and inspiration in how hard he plays for his size. You can't measure heart."
Wednesday before practice, Lizotte quickly snapped "5-8" when he was asked if he was 5-foot-7. Lizotte has been in skates when he was much smaller than that. He was in skates when the skates went passed his knees. When he was young, he couldn't wait for his mom to walk him to the pond behind their house in Chisago Lakes, Minn., so he'd crawl in skates through the yard to get to the ice.
"He definitely told me to always give my all," Lizotte said of his dad. "You can't control the scoreboard. You just control the things you can control."
Lizotte did anything he could to get to the ice. Now, he does anything he can to excel on the ice.
"He's gotten stronger this year," Eades said. "Early on, it was quite a transition. I think he had just one assist in the first 10 games. He's been over a point a game since. His heart and his head ... he's got great hockey sense. He's going to be a great player for us next year, and then St. Cloud has a good one down the road."
A pair may no longer be here, but Lizotte is following in his parent's footprints, going to St. Cloud State for hockey after his junior hockey career. For now, he's just learning from what he's gone through.
"Don't take the little things in such a big way," Lizotte said. "Little things will happen in life you just can't take so seriously. Something bad happens, you have to get back on your horse and get back going."