John Tortorella fights off tears on ESPN discussing the late Matiss Kivlenieks

john tortorella trevor zegras
Dec 2, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella looks on from behind the bench against the Washington Capitals in the second period at Capital One Arena. The Capitals won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Former Columbus Blue Jackets head coach, John Tortorella is known for his fiery and confrontational attitude. He’s publicly displayed it with members of the media and some of his players on the bench.

Some players dislike him, and others would run through a wall for him. That’s been the case wherever he’s coached and was no different in his last stop in Columbus.

Recently, ESPN did a segment on Elvis Merzlikins and him honoring Mattis Kivlenieks who died tragically this past summer.

When the clip ended, John Tortorella was asked about his former goalie and struggled to get words out.

John Tortorella chokes up discussing Matiss Kivlenieks

“What’s going through your mind Torts when you see that,” host John Buccigross asked about the video.

You’re talking about hockey, and he was just going to start his career as an NHLer” he began as he fought back tears. “I just don’t even think that. I see a 24 year-old kid that’s just starting his life. That’s hard.”

Blue Jackets and Merzlikins honored Matiss

Matiss Kivlenieks death
May 8, 2021; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks (80) follows the puck in play against the Detroit Red Wings in the second period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Matiss Kivlenieks died a hero

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.”

Merzlikins and his wife, Aleksandra, who was pregnant at the time made their son’s middle name Matiss.

-Field Level Media contributed to this article.