Many in the hockey world learned of the tight bond between Blue Jackets goaltenders Elvis Merzlikins and Matīss Kivlenieks following Kivlenieks’ tragic death in July.
The 24-year-old Kivlenieks died of chest trauma caused by a fireworks accident during a July 4 party at the home of Blue Jackets goaltending coach Manny Legace.
Merzlikins will continue to honor his “little brother” with a new mask design for the 2021-22 season. Along with Blue Jackets mascot Stinger and Heath Ledger’s Joker character, the mask, painted by the great David Gunnarsson, features Kivlenieks’ No. 80 on the front with angel’s wings and the message “You saved the last puck, little brother.”
For Kivi ❤️💙 pic.twitter.com/dLdqJvyncd
— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) September 10, 2021
Speaking to Jeff Svoboda of the Blue Jackets’ website, Merzlikins talked about the inspiration behind the mask.
“I always want him with me,” he said. “I know he is going to always be with me and he is going to look on from up there and help me. That’s the minimum of what he can do for me because he is not here with anymore with us. The passion and love that he had for this game, that is what he is going to do, and I believe that.”
Merzlikins and his wife, Aleksandra, welcomed a baby boy to the world last month and named him Knox Matīss Merzlikins.
Inspired for the coming season
The tragic events in July have also motivated Merzlikins to reach another level this coming season. In an interview with The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline, he stated his goal is to honor his friend and aim to win the 2021-22 Vezina Trophy.
“It’s another stem of motivation, to do it better for Matiss because he’s not going to be able to do that,” he said. “My goal in my mind … I don’t want to make any promises, but I can tell you, Aaron … my plan is to win a Vezina Trophy. I’m gonna win a f—— Vezina for him. We can’t make promises because this is hockey and we don’t know how the season can go, but this is my goal. I believe I’m going to reach it. I’m not going to have any limits. I’m just gonna go all-in. Honestly, I don’t care, I’m going all-in for the Vezina. That’s my plan. I worked my a– off all summer long, to get stronger, to get ready for the season, to prepare myself. I’m not going to let anything get in my way to destroy my goal, my dream.
“So that’s how I think about it. That’s how I need to think about it. That’s positive. If I am having pain in my thoughts about him, that’s going to be something that’s going to be a problem.”