Blue Jackets' Merzlikins: Kivlenieks 'died a hero' in fireworks accident
Kivlenieks died due to chest trauma from a fireworks mortar blast. The mortar tube tilted and started firing toward a hot tub. Merzlikins and his pregnant wife were nearby.
"He saved, not just many lives, but when it happened, I was standing 20, 30 feet back of him," Merzlikins said at Kivlenieks' memorial service on Thursday. "And I was hugging my wife. He saved my son, he saved my wife, and he saved me. My son's second name is going to be Matiss.
"If that wasn't me or my wife or son, that would be 50 other people. He died a hero. And that's not me saying it. That was the doctor saying it. If he would just sit, it wouldn't have happened. As Sabrina said, he saved his last puck. I just wanted to let you know that he was a hero. He saved a lot of lives."
Kivlienieks lived in Merzlikins' guest room, and the two Latvian netminders formed a tight bond.
"Matiss, he wasn't my friend. Matiss was my little brother," Merzlikins said.
The incident occurred at goaltending coach Manny Legace's house in Michigan to celebrate his daughter's wedding. Kivlienieks first lived with Legace during the summers after joining the Blue Jackets organization.
"I love you. I always will love you," Legace said. "You were my son. And you were a great friend to everybody here."
Kivlienieks was 24.