by Nick Hart | AHL On The Beat
When Jon Lizotte first stepped onto the ice for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, no one knew quite what to expect from the rookie who put up rather unassuming numbers in college.
However, just a few shifts into his pro career, his talents were on full display.
Crashing hits, booming shots, sparkling passes, all of which quickly became apparent hallmarks of the young defenseman’s game as he exploded onto the scene.
Lizotte’s surprise emergence has proved that the Penguins stumbled upon a key contributor to their season’s success. Little did the team know that it had brought in a pretty savvy businessman too.
In 1998, Lizotte’s parents, Mike and Lori, founded Lizotte Fireworks, a family-operated and -owned fireworks distributor in Minot, North Dakota. Naturally, Jon was brought in to assist with the business when he was a teenager as a summer job. He started by stocking shelves and doing different odd jobs at his parents’ direction, but he’s since taken a much more active role in its operation.
“Now, I pretty much run the whole thing,” Jon said. “I do all the ordering for inventory, I do the hiring, staffing, and making sure the business is all set for when things get busy.
“It’s a great little business and a fun little summer gig. We’re really happy with it.”
Thanks to the entrepreneurial acumen of Mike and Lori, Jon has taken over a business that has grown over two decades from a pop-up tent to one with several warehouses full of explosive delights.
Jon has a lot of responsibility when it comes to taking care of Lizotte Fireworks back in his home state, and thus the 25-year-old’s summers have become a bit of a balancing act when it comes to managing his time and energy. Staying in the shape necessary to be a premiere athlete while also maintaining a thriving-but-seasonal business pulls him in a lot of different directions.
“I stay busy, that’s for sure,” he said. “Between training in the Minneapolis area, living in Grand Forks and then the business in Minot, I put a lot of miles on the car. It keeps me out of trouble, I guess.”
It clearly hasn’t dulled his hockey skills, either. After zipping around St. Cloud State University for four years, Lizotte has impressed in the early stages of his pro career. He scored a goal in his AHL debut and then slowly built more and more confidence from there. The undrafted college free agent eventually put together a four-game point streak early in the Penguins’ 2019-20 season, culminating in a pair of impressive two-point outings to close out the month of October.
As a breakout star amongst a crowded field of rookies on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton roster, Lizotte has not only prompted oohs and ahhs from the crowd at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza, but also a strong reaction from his new coach as well.
“What I really like is he competes,” said Penguins head coach and general manager Mike Vellucci. “He is a competitive person, and every shift he’s giving it his all. Now that he’s getting a little more comfortable, he’s starting to make more of those offensive plays, those little pocket passes or the perfect angle he made on the chip pass that led to our one OT winner.”
Lizotte’s first foray into pro hockey is clearly off to a hot start, and he hopes he can continue to ascend higher and higher. But when the time comes to call it a career, he has no concerns about what lies ahead with life after hockey.
“The fireworks thing is definitely a fallback once all the hockey stuff is wrapped up,” Lizotte said. “I’ve taken to it nicely, and it’s good to know that it’s always doing well, but I always hoped pro hockey at any level would be an option for me.”
When the season’s over, Lizotte will go right back to helping the family business as they gear up for a fireworks frenzy at the end of June and beginning of July. North Dakota state law restricts fireworks distributors to a nine-day window to move their merchandise. That makes for months’ worth of work for Jon that builds up to a little more than a week of sales.
But the Lizotte family may have found a new window to make some dough, even if it comes without the help of their hockey-playing son.
“They recently changed the state law to you can sell over New Year’s now, too,” he said before quipping, “I’m kind of busy in the winter this year, though. Not sure what it is, but I’ve got something going on.”
Lizotte won’t be able to open the doors to the warehouse this winter, but instead, he’s focused on continuing to deliver fireworks on the ice for the Penguins.