The Columbus Blue Jackets paid tribute to the life and career of late goalie Matiss Kivlenieks on Thursday at Nationwide Arena.
Kivlenieks died in a tragic fireworks accident, saving the lives of others, teammate Elvis Merzlikins said, in a touching eulogy back in July.
The Blue Jackets raised a No. 80 banner to the rafters in honor of Kivilenieks. Members of the Kivilenieks family were invited to participate in the ceremonial puck drop.
The Blue Jackets also put No. 80 on the ice behind the net.
The Blue Jackets Foundation also established the Matiss Kivlenieks Memorial Fund to support youth hockey initiatives in both Columbus and his native Latvia. The team and the McConnell family have pledged $80,000 to match every donation made.
In honor of the teammate he called his “little brother,” Merzlikins traded in his usual No. 90 and wore No. 80 during the game.
Merzlikins stopped 36 of 38 shots and was named the second star of the game.
“It was tough. It was really tough. It’s tough now… Even my wife before I left the house said ‘dont (mess) it up,'” Merzlikins said of his number change after the game. “It was a big, big responsibility. I didn’t want to embarrass the number.”
“I’m going to be honest I slept really bad (last) night because I was really nervous. I knew I was going to be emotional. It was hard to focus. It was hard to dial in and be there in the moment, just at the blue line. When I saw the family coming out, I started crying,” he said. “The guys, they knew how important this game was, and they worked their (tails) off.”