Blues Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins wears 80 to honor late Matiss Kivlenieks

Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins honored his late teammate and countryman Matiss Kivlenieks by wearing his jersey number, No. 80, in the team’s season opener Thursday.

The Jackets also hung a No. 80 banner from the rafters of Nationwide Arena in Columbus ahead of Thursday’s home game against the Arizona Coyotes, where it will remain for the season.

Kivlenieks died at age 24 over Fourth of July weekend this summer. Members of the Columbus organization were attending a marriage celebration for goalie coach Manny Legace’s daughter. Kivlenieks was struck in the chest by a firework mortar and later succumbed to chest trauma.

Kivlenieks and the 27-year-old Merzlikins both hailed from Latvia, played the same position and, by all accounts, were close friends, with Merzlikins a mentor. At a memorial service for Kivlenieks in July, Merzlikins said Kivlenieks saved his life by getting in front of the oncoming firework as it headed toward Merzlikins and his pregnant wife.

Merzlikins dedicating season to fallen friend

Elvis Merzlikins is dedicating this season to Matiss Kivlenieks who lost his life tragically in a 4th of July accident.

Speaking at a private memorial service in Arlington, Ohio, Merzlikins said his teammate’s actions saved him and his pregnant wife from the errant fireworks blast.

“He saved not just many lives, but when it happened, I was standing 20, 30 feet back of him and I was hugging my wife,” Merzlikins said, per ESPN. “He saved my son, he saved my wife, and he saved me.”Video doesn’t exist.

The 27 year-old net-minder was 8-12-5 with a 2.77 goals-against average, a .916 save percentage. In 61 NHL games, Merzlikins numbers are excellent as he sports a 2.54 GAA and a .920 SV% to go with a 21-21-13 record. He has 7 career shutouts as well.

“I don’t want to make any promises, but I can tell you … my plan is to win a Vezina Trophy,” Merzlikins told The Athletic in comments published Tuesday. “I’m gonna win a … 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.”

–Field Level Media contributed to this report