Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks ‘died a hero’ during a tragic fireworks mishap on July 4 by saving the lives of teammate Elvis Merzlikins and his pregnant wife, it was revealed at Thursday’s memorial service.
‘He saved not just many lives, but when it happened, I was standing 20, 30 feet back of him and I was hugging my wife,’ Merzlikins said at the service for his friend and teammate in Ohio. ‘He saved my son, he saved my wife, and he saved me.’
Merzlikins, whose wife, Aleksandra, is in her third trimester, said their son’s middle name will be Matiss. Kivlenieks had been living in Ohio with Merzlikins, a fellow Latvian.
‘He wasn’t a friend,’ Merzlikins said, ‘he was my little brother.’
Kivlenieks, 24, was attending a backyard wedding celebration for the daughter of Blue Jackets goaltender coach Manny Legace in Novi, Michigan when he was killed by the firework mortar.
Police say a fireworks mortar tube tilted and started firing at people nearby. Kivlenieks was in a hot tub and tried to get clear with several other people when he was struck. He died from chest trauma with major damage to his heart and lungs.
The Columbus Blue Jackets’ Elvis Merzlikins (left) and teammate Matiss Kivlenieks are pictured at a Fourth of July wedding at goalie coach Many Legace’s house prior to the fireworks mishap that cost Kivlenieks his life. Legace and Merzlikins eulogized Kivlenieks in a ceremony on Thursday
Former NHL netminder and Blue Jackets goalies coach Manny Legace (left) speaks at Kivlenieks’s memorial service alongside Columbus goaltender Elvis Merzlikins
At the memorial service on Thursday, Legace said: ‘Michigan was his second home. A lot of you guys don’t know, but ever since Kivi joined our organization, he would come up and live with my wife and I every summer. He became a son to us. He lived with us through the pandemic.
‘I got to play golf with him every day in the summer. Got to hang out with him, play cards. He had that smile that, he was going to get you. He got to become one of my family.’
At the service, Merzlikins explained that several others have also said his friend died a hero that night.
‘That’s not just what I said,’ he continued. ‘That’s what the doctor said. … And as Sabrina said, he saved his last puck.’
Prosecutors in Oakland County, Michigan, are reviewing the report into the police investigation into the goaltender’s death. The report revealed no wrongdoing, according to Novi police lieutenant Jason Meier.
Merzlikins (left), whose wife, Aleksandra (right), is in her third trimester, said their son’s middle name will be Matiss. Kivlenieks had been living in Ohio with Merzlikins, a fellow Latvian
Legace did lighten the mood at the service by joking about former Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella (right), who is famously cantankerous and hard on his netminders. ‘Look how many lives you’ve touched, Matiss,’ Legace said, referencing the crowd. ‘Look how many lives you’ve touched. Torts even flew in, and he hates goalies’
Legace’s home backs on to a lake, with a fire pit down by the water’s edge
Legace did lighten the mood at the service by joking about former Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella, who is famously cantankerous and hard on his netminders.
‘Look how many lives you’ve touched, Matiss,’ Legace said, referencing the crowd. ‘Look how many lives you’ve touched. Torts even flew in, and he hates goalies.’
‘That’s the funniest thing you ever said,’ Merzlikins added as the crowd laughed.
Legace also thanked Kivlenieks’s mother, Astrida, for ‘for raising a beautiful child.’
The Matiss Kivlenieks Memorial Fund was launched on Tuesday in his adopted home city of Columbus. In partnership with the Blue Jackets Foundation and the McConnell family, the owners of the team, the fund will support youth hockey initiatives in Columbus and in Latvia.
Contributions up to $80,000 will be matched by the Blue Jackets and the McConnells. That amount was chosen to represent Kivlenieks’ jersey No. 80.
‘You guys don’t know Kivi. He wouldn’t want this,’ Legace said. ‘He’d want everyone to just have a beer and go on their way. But you guys in the Blue Jackets organization have gone overboard, so thank you.’
The Columbus Blue Jackets and Latvian Hockey Federation said Monday that 24-year-old goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks (left, right) has died from a head injury. A spokesperson for the Oakland County medical examiner’s office told DailyMail.com that the official cause of death is ‘fireworks mortar blast chest traum
In its 2020 Fireworks Annual Report, the agency said its staff received reports of 18 non-occupational deaths last year in the United States. Of that number, 12 involved the misuse of fireworks. Consumer Product Safety Commission staff also has reports of 136 fireworks-related deaths between 2005-2020.
In Michigan, consumer fireworks must meet CPSC standards. Licensed facilities only can sell fireworks to people 18 and older. Low impact fireworks like sparklers, toy snakes, snaps, and poppers are also legal for sale and use.
State law stipulates that consumer-grade fireworks only can be ignited from personal property. It’s also illegal to discharge fireworks when intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.
Kivlenieks was considered a potential future starter in net for the Blue Jackets. Most recently, he represented Latvia this spring at the world hockey championship in which he played four games. Prior to that, Kivlenieks played two games for the Blue Jackets and eight for the American Hockey League’s Cleveland Monsters this past season.
‘He was a really humble, thoughtful, intelligent radiant young man,’ agent Jay Grossman said of his client. ‘Not to generalize, but for whatever reasons, goalies have always gotten a wrap for being more insightful, sometime deeper thinkers. And he was clearly like that, but in his own way.
‘Really observant. He took everything in.’
A makeshift memorial to Kivlenieks sprung up at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio – where the young Latvian played his hockey. He played in the 80 shirt
The Montreal Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning stand on the ice during a moment of silence for Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Matiss Kivlenieks prior to Game Four of the 2021 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the Bell Centre on Monday
Kivlenieks had recently played for Latvia at the IIHF World Championships. The Latvians were playing in front of home fans in Riga, but still finished just 11th out of 16 national teams.
Despite the disappointing finish, Kivlenieks helped Latvia upset the eventual tournament champions, Team Canada, with a 2-0 shutout in the group stage.
The Latvian Hockey Federation called Kivlenieks’ death ‘a great loss not only for Latvian hockey but for the entire Latvian nation.’
Kivlenieks was perviously named 2017 Player of the Year in the USHL, a national junior hockey league.
He reportedly planned on preparing for the 2021-22 season by staying in North American rather than returning to Latvia.
Kivlenieks played in eight games (six starts) for the Blue Jackets in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons. He was 2-2-2 with a 3.09 goals-against average and an .899 save percentage.