Matiss Kivlenieks saved his best for last.
On Thursday, a Memorial Service was held in suburban Columbus to remember the late Blue Jackets’ goaltender who tragically died due to a fireworks accident. He will be remembered for a lot of things. But after Thursday, he will be remembered always as a hero.
Among those who spoke at the Memorial was goaltender Elvis Merzlikins. He spoke very highly of Kivlenieks about many things including saying that he “wasn’t my friend. He was my little brother.” But then Merzlikins admitted something that will be remembered forever. It turns out Kivlenieks made the ultimate sacrifice.
Kivlenieks Saved Many People
“But what had happened I was standing 20-30 feet back of him and I was hugging my wife,” Merzlikins said. “He saved my son. He saved my wife and he saved me. My son’s second name is going to be Matiss…He died as a hero.”
Merzlikins went on to say that Kivlenieks saved a lot of lives and that he was pretty sure he did that with a smile because it’s true. It wasn’t just the Merzlikins family that was saved. It was many others. He said upwards of 60, 70, 80 people were at Manny Legace’s home on July 4 for the wedding of his daughter. Kivlenieks died as a hero. The doctor said as much.
Kivlenieks’ last act was to make the greatest save possible. He did just that. In fact he made several saves. It’s for this reason that he should be remembered and honored for his heroism.
The Blue Jackets have created the Matiss Kivlenieks Memorial Fund to support youth hockey initiatives in Columbus and in Latvia. The team and the McConnell family have pledged $80,000 to match every donation made in Matiss’ memory. If you are interested in donating to the Memorial Fund, you can do so at this link.
Reflections of Kivlenieks
Along with Merzlikins and Legace, head coach Brad Larsen and forward Nathan Gerbe each spoke at the Memorial. In spite of the tremendous sadness and emotion present, there were some moments of laughter and levity in there. Let’s look at some of those moments now.
- Larsen opened by saying there was a man in the room that says you always speak from the heart. “It rhymes with Cinderella. The first part is Tor so if you can’t figure that out, come to me and I’ll share because I don’t want to embarrass the man.” Of course he’s speaking of John Tortorella who was at the Memorial.
- Larsen said that Kivlenieks “loved to prank people.” He said Kivlenieks would spend weeks studying on the internet how to prank people. That smile has a whole new meaning now.
- Gerbe mentioned the first time he met Kivlenieks was on a three-hour car ride up to Michigan. Then Monsters GM Bill Zito asked Gerbe to drive Kivlenieks to Legace’s home in Michigan. Gerbe recalls asking “300 questions” during that car ride but said he really got to know him well as a result.
- Legace said that Kivlenieks “would have been mad” at everything that was done in putting the Memorial together. He wouldn’t have wanted this. He’d want everyone to “have a beer and go on their way.”
- Perhaps the funniest quote of the day came from Legace: “Torts even flew in and he hates goalies.” Everyone got a good laugh out of that one. That even made Merzlikins speak up and tell Legace that was the funniest thing you’ve ever said.
- Merzlikins remembered not even hearing of Kivlenieks at first. “Who the hell is that guy? I had never heard his name.” He admitted that made him worried at first when the Blue Jackets signed Kivlenieks.
- Merzlikins also shared a couple of funny things about Kivlenieks including his coffee habit and the way he strives for perfection. “I hated him in the mornings” said Merzlikins because he didn’t have his coffee. “Just an awful, awful person without his coffee. He was slow like Manny said.”
- And on perfection, they were washing Kivlenieks’ car every second day. Also three drips of coffee fell on Matiss’ new shoes. He was trying to clean it despite how little coffee there was. He also shared stories about practice swings in golf and polishing his gloves. Kivlenieks was a true perfectionist.
Kivlenieks Will Be Remembered Forever
But in the end, Kivlenieks will be remembered for all the right reasons. He always had a smile on his face. He was very hard working and touched the lives of everyone he encountered. To those that knew him best, Kivlenieks was family to them.
Kivlenieks helped out in any way he could especially for Merzlikins’ wife Aleksandra. When she got pregnant, Kivlenieks stepped up and helped out around the house more. Elvis joked saying Kivlenieks did more than he did. But it completely fits the hard-worker mentality within Matiss.
One word keeps coming up in regards to Kivlenieks. That was respect. He had earned the respect of everyone that knew him. And now he’s earned the respect of everyone for being a hero.
As Larsen said during his tribute, Kivlenieks truly, truly was a gift. He inspired a country and a young generation of goalies.
Kivlenieks might be gone. But he will never be forgotten. Not in Columbus. Not in Cleveland. Not in Minnesota where he spent a lot of time when he first came to America. And he won’t be forgotten in Latvia. His legacy will last forever.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2022-23 season will mark nine seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.