It was an emotional moment for everyone who came to the Nationwide Arena Thursday night to watch the opening game of the new NHL season by the Columbus Blue Jackets, who played against the Arizona Coyotes.
In a ceremony before the start of the match, club officials hung a large flag bearing the number 80 under the ceiling of the hall in memory of the late Latvian goalkeeper Matis Kevliniks. The eighties were not chosen at random. This was the number Matisse wore on his jersey during his overseas career.
Kevlinix tragically died on July 4 of this year, when he was unfortunately hit by an improperly launched firework during Independence Day celebrations. Kiwi was a wonderful young man who woke up every new day with a smile on his face. We will never forget the legacy he left behind in our foundation for four years,” Blue Jackets president John Davidson said later this summer.
The most important match in any profession
On the night of Thursday to Friday, the “bluecoats” finally had a chance to officially bid farewell to the Kivlenieks at a pre-match party with the fans. On this sad occasion, members of the Kivlenieks family, who came from distant Riga, also visited Columbus. The organizers prepared a nice gesture for them when they played the Latvian anthem as they slid across the ice.
Many players were not shy about crying on the ice. However, the death of Matisse Kevlenex hit his compatriot and at the same time his fellow Blue Jackets goalkeeper, Elvis Merzlikins, was the hardest. In the NHL, meeting two Latvian goalkeepers on one team is rare. That is why Kivlenieks and Merzlikins were so close.
At the game with Arizona, Merzlikins also wore the number 80 jersey for the first and last time in honor of his dear friend: “It was the most important game of my career. I was nervous in front of him because I didn’t want to be ashamed of the number I was wearing in my first and last game here in Columbus.
I slept hard last night. I was completely uncomfortable and knew feelings would definitely break on the ice with me. It was difficult to fully focus on every moment of the match. I cried when I saw the Mattis family walking the Blue Line. It was really difficult.”
Merzlikins often spoke of Kivlenieks as his little brother. Even just before Matisse’s death, he wanted to ask him to be his daughter’s godfather.
Former Blue Jackets player Pierre-Luc Dubois, who changed from 13 to 80 in Winnipeg before the season, also paid tribute to the deceased Latvian goalkeeper. that helps develop young goalkeepers in the home of Kevlinix.
“I will fight for him in every match,” Columbus goalkeeper Elvis Merslikins said at the start of the new season. According to his words, the goal of the 27-year-old Latvian goalkeeper is to enter the whole new year, becoming the best goalkeeper in the NHL and winning the Vezina Cup. In this way, he would like to honor a dear friend he lost unexpectedly this summer.
Merzlikins started the journey behind that dream well, when he racked up a massive 80th win on the back over Arizona 8:2 on the home “bluecoat” on Thursday, while covering 36 of the opponent’s 38 shot attempts. With a success rate of nearly 95 percent, he certainly didn’t shame his deceased compatriot.
After the last trumpet, speaking across the Nationwide Arena, the Merzlikins looked at the flag bearing Matissa Kivlenieks’ name with tears and sent him a friendly salute “there”. This moment was also captured on the official website of Columbus Blue Jackets, which he commented in the form of a short video on his Twitter account with the description: “There is no need for words, just look at them.”
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