Tragedy struck the Columbus Blue Jackets and the hockey world during a July 4th party at the home of Blue Jackets goaltending coach Manny Legace with the passing of Matiss Kivlenieks. While the original reports from the tragic accident were fuzzy and not fully understood, we came to learn that Kivlenieks died from a fireworks mortar blast and chest trauma. At the age of 24, with a promising NHL career at his grasps, Kivlenieks lost his life.
From this tragedy, we learned a tremendous story about the person that Matiss Kivlenieks was from so many that were close to him. There were the stories and tributes of his character, demeanor and how he carried himself on and off the ice. How Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno would describe him as one with a great smile and that he was always in a good mood.
In a statement to the local Ohio ABC 6, Cam Atkinson noted how “Kivi was the nicest person and always had a smile on his face. He never ever complained and would do anything for anybody. It was easy to root for a guy like Kivi and a privilege to be his teammate….” The tributes seemed endless among a tremendous loss.
What we know today almost two weeks since the tragedy is that Kivlenieks was a hero. During a memorial service on Thursday, fellow goaltender Elvis Merzlikins paid his respects and noted how Kivlenieks saved him and his pregnant wife that night. He put himself in danger and willingly scarified himself to protect others.
The Columbus Blue Jackets Foundation
The Columbus Blue Jackets Foundation since established the Matiss Kivlenieks Memorial Fund to support youth hockey initiatives in Columbus and his native home Latvia. The organization and McConnell family have also pledged $80,000 in honor of his No.80 to match every donation made to the fund in his memory. More information regarding the fund can be found by visiting www.BlueJackets.com/Kivi.
Matiss Kivlenieks life and legacy as a hero should also be honored and remembered by the NHL. While he certainly will not be forgotten by the hockey family, a very fitting way to honor would be in the form of an annual award. The “Matiss Kivlenieks Heroism Award” could be tied to acts of heroism by those in the hockey community and family both on and off the ice in all stages of the game. How fitting of a way to pay a lasting tribute to Kivlenieks who was a to so many in the hockey world a teammate, a friend or how Merzlikins summed it up: “Matiss. He wasn’t my friend. Matiss was my little brother.”Embed from Getty Images