COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A private memorial service took place Thursday morning to celebrate the life of Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks, who died on July 4. He was 24 years old.
“He’s inspired a country, a young generation of goalies, he’s impacted gosh . . . he’s impacted so many people,” Blue Jackets head coach Brad Larsen said through tears.
Kilvlenieks died of chest trauma from an errant fireworks mortar blast in Novi, Michigan, while attending a gathering at the home of Blue Jackets goaltending coach Manny Legace, whose daughter was getting married that weekend.
“He’d become a son to us,” Legace said. “He got to become one of my family, a brother to my daughter and my son, great friend to our nephew. He wanted to come to that wedding on July 4th. Got to be best friends with Elvis [Merzlikins]. I want to thank Matiss’ mom and dad for raising a beautiful child and giving him to the world for us to share this beautiful angel. Look how many lives you’ve touched. Look how many lives you touched, Kivi.”
Kivlenieks’ best friend and fellow CBJ goalie Elvis Merzlikins was at the party when Kivlenieks was hit with the mortar blast. Merzlikins, who’s also from Latvia, said Kivlenieks saved countless lives when he was struck.
“He wasn’t my friend. He was my little brother,” Merzlikins said. “He saved my son, he saved my wife and he saved me . . He died as a hero.”
Merzlikins said his son’s second name is going to be Matiss to honor his late friend.
The Blue Jackets announced they would establish a memorial fund in honor of Kivlenieks to benefit youth hockey initiatives.
The Matiss Kivlenieks Memorial Fund will support youth hockey initiatives in both Columbus and Kivlenieks’ home country of Latvia.
The team will match every donation made to the fund up to $80,000.