Columbus Blue Jackets' Matiss Kivlenieks remembered as 'hero' at memorial service after protecting others

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CBS Sports 15 July, 2021 - 04:06pm 5 views

How did Kivlenieks die?

Kivlenieks died on July 4 after being hit by a mortar-style firework at the home of the club's goaltending coach in Michigan. A medical examiner later confirmed the 24-year-old died from chest trauma caused by the mortar blast. 10TV‘He died a hero’: CBJ goalie Elvis Merzlikins says Matiss Kivlenieks saved him, pregnant wife

Just two weeks ago, the National Hockey League was stunned by the loss of Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Matiss Kivlenieks, who died July 4 after a fireworks accident. At just 24 years old, Kivlenieks' death was as tragic and untimely as they come, which led to an emotional memorial service -- and a noble revelation about the last night of his life -- on Thursday.

During the memorial service in honor of Kivlenieks at Schoedinger Funeral Home in Columbus, fellow Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins revealed that Kivlenieks protected others from the errant fireworks mortar shell that fatally struck him in the chest. Among those who Kivlenieks' act of heroism saved were Merzlikins, his wife, and their unborn child.

"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. "He saved my wife, he saved my son, and he saved me. ... If that wasn't me or my wife or son, that would be 50 other people.

"He died as a hero. And that's not me saying. That was the doctor saying. ... And as Sabrina said, he saved his last puck. I just want to let you know that he was a hero. He saved a lot of lives. And I'm pretty sure he did that with a smile, because it's true."

Kivlenieks was attending a backyard party at the home of Blue Jackets goaltending coach Manny Legace, which was being held to celebrate his daughter Sabrina's wedding. According to the Columbus Dispatch, Kivlenieks had been attempting to flee a hot tub after a mortar-style firework inadvertently flew over the tub, but he was struck by another shell that fired seconds later. Kivlenieks suffered extensive and fatal damage to his heart and lungs. Police stated that no illegalities were discovered in their investigation, and that Kivlenieks' death is being considered a "tragic accident."

Mezlikins revealed during his comments that his unborn son will be named Matiss in honor of his fallen teammate and fellow Latvian. Kivlenieks had been set to contend for a job as backup goaltender for the Blue Jackets after starting the final two games of the 2020-21 season.

In conjunction with Kivlenieks' memorial service, the Blue Jackets announced the formation of the Matiss Kivlenieks Memorial Fund, which will support youth hockey initiatives both in Columbus and in Latvia. The Blue Jackets and the McConnell family have pledged $80,000 -- in honor of Kivlenieks' No. 80 -- to match every donation to the fund.

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Matiss Kivlenieks praised at memorial service for saving 'many lives' from fireworks blast

ESPN 15 July, 2021 - 11:10pm

"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 Kivlenieks' memorial service Thursday in Upper Arlington, Ohio. "He saved my son, he saved my wife, and he saved me."

Merzlikins' wife, Aleksandra, is in her third trimester, and Merzlikins said their son's second name will be Matiss in honor of his teammate. Kivlenieks was living in Ohio with Merzlikins, who called his fellow Latvian player "my little brother."

Kivlenieks died from chest trauma with major damage to his heart and lungs after being hit with an errant firework at a July 4 backyard party at the Michigan home of Blue Jackets goaltending coach Manny Legace. The party was also a wedding celebration for Legace's daughter, Sabrina.

In saying Kivlenieks died a hero, Merzlikins noted, "That's not just what I said. That's what the doctor said. ... And as Sabrina said, he saved his last puck."

"Just to tell you about the last day," Merzlikins said. "There were 60, 70, 80 people. I never looked for him. I was talking to so many people. Always, he came to me, he looked for me. We had our last beer, our last shot, last cigar. He was always smiling. I think he made me stronger as a man."

While fighting back tears, Legace said Kivlenieks "got to become one of my family. He got to be a brother to my daughter and my son, a great friend to our nephew."

"Michigan was his second home," Legace said. "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."

Legace brought some humor to his eulogy, noting that former Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella was in attendance.

"Look how many lives you've touched, Matiss. Look how many lives you've touched," Legace said. "Torts even flew in, and he hates goalies."

"That's the funniest thing you ever said," Merzlikins quipped to laughs from the crowd.

Legace thanked everyone who came to the service and lauded Matiss' mother and father "for raising a beautiful child."

"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."

Many Blue Jackets players and coaches flew in for the memorial service, as did friends and teammates from Minnesota; Kivlenieks began his career in North America with the Minnesota Junior Hockey League in 2014.

Kivlenieks, who signed with the Blue Jackets as an undrafted free agent in 2017, started in two games for Columbus in 2021 but was expected to have a larger role next season. He appeared in the hockey world championship for Latvia earlier this year and posted a shutout over heavily favored Canada.

The Novi (Michigan) Police Department has turned over its investigation into Kivlenieks' death to the Oakland County prosecutor's office for review. The police department is still considering the death as accidental and did not request any criminal charges.

Said Legace: "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."

'He died a hero': Blue Jackets goalie Kivlenieks saved a teammate and his pregnant wife before his death

Yahoo Sports 15 July, 2021 - 11:10pm

Dan Wetzel, Pat Forde, Pete Thamel

It was an extremely touching yet heartbreakingly emotional speech from Merzlikins, who had to talk about a friend he lost way too soon. Kivlenieks was only 24 years old when he died.

A number of people from the hockey world have also shared their stories and expressed their condolences. Like Merzlikins, many noted how Kivlenieks always had a smile on his face.

It’s a tragedy in every sense of the word, and Merzlikins’ eulogy illustrated just what kind of person Kivlenieks was.

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'He died a hero': Friend says NHL goalie saved others in fireworks incident

Click On Detroit | Local 4 | WDIV 15 July, 2021 - 11:10pm

'He died a hero': Blue Jackets goalie Matiss Kivlenieks saved 'many lives' during fireworks mishap

Daily Mail 15 July, 2021 - 11:10pm

By Alex Raskin Sports News Editor For Dailymail.com and Reuters

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.

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Part of the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday & Metro Media Group

Nordecke making banner for Kivlenieks for Saturday's game

NBC4 Columbus 15 July, 2021 - 11:10pm

Blue Jackets' Elvis Merzlikins says Matiss Kivlenieks saved him, pregnant wife the night of firework death

Fox News 15 July, 2021 - 07:03pm

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During a memorial service for Kivlenieks on Thursday, Merzlikins said that Kivlenieks "died a hero" after a mortar-style firework erroneously went off in the direction of a hot tub where the 24-year-old Latvian goaltender was.

An autopsy report revealed Kivlenieks was struck in the left side of his chest by an explosive shell while trying to escape from the hot tub and later died from his injuries. The accident took place at around 10 p.m. at the home of Blue Jackets goalie coach Manny Legace, who was celebrating his daughter Sabrina’s wedding.

"He died as a hero. That's not me saying it, that was the doctor saying it," Merzlikins said. "I just wanted you to know that he was a hero. He saved a lot of lives. And I'm pretty sure he did it with a smile."

"He wasn’t my friend. Matiss was my little brother.

Novi Police Lt. Jason Meier said Monday that the investigation, which has been completed, will be reviewed by state prosecutors because of the "high-profile nature" of the incident, adding that no criminal charges have been requested in the case.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. ©2021 FOX News Network, LLC. All rights reserved. Quotes displayed in real-time or delayed by at least 15 minutes. Market data provided by Factset. Powered and implemented by FactSet Digital Solutions. Legal Statement. Mutual Fund and ETF data provided by Refinitiv Lipper.

Fallen Blue Jackets goalie remembered as friend, hero

Yahoo Sports 15 July, 2021 - 04:51pm

Dan Wetzel, Pat Forde, Pete Thamel

Authorities have said the firework at a private home northwest of Detroit tilted slightly and started to fire toward people nearby. Kivlenieks was in a hot tub and was trying to move out of the way of the firework when he was struck.

He suffered chest trauma and was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Fellow Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins, a close friend of the 24-year-old Kivlenieks, told the mourners at the Schoedinger Funeral Home in Upper Arlington that his teammate saved him and his pregnant wife the night he was killed.

Merzlikins said he and his wife were roughly 20 to 30 feet behind Kivlenieks when he was struck, telling the crowd: “He saved not just many lives ... He saved my (unborn) son, he saved my wife, and he saved me.”

To honor his fallen friend, Merzlikins said his son's middle name will be Matiss.

Police in Novi, Michigan, have not requested charges in Kivlenieks’ death, saying it still is considered accidental. However, they have asked the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office to review the matter, citing the “high-profile nature” of the death.

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Former Detroit Red Wings goalie Manny Legace was in tears as he remembered Matiss Kivlenieks, who passed away July 4 in a fireworks accident

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