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NHL goalie Matiss Kivlenieks ‘died a hero’ after protecting teammate and his pregnant wife from firework blast

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NHL goalie Matiss Kivlenieks ‘died a hero’ after protecting teammate and his pregnant wife from firework blast

The Columbus Blue Jackets goalie who was killed by an errant firework over the Fourth of July weekend was hailed as a hero for saving his teammate’s pregnant wife from being hit by the blast.

Matiss Kivlenieks, 24, was killed after being hit by a firework in the chest. His teammate, Elvis Merzlikins, said he “died a hero” by protecting him and his pregnant wife from the 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,” Mr Merzlikins said at Mr Kivlenieks' memorial service on Thursday. “He saved my son, he saved my wife, and he saved me.”

ESPN reported that Mr Merzlikins’s wife is in her third trimester. The NHL player said he planned to give his son the middle name “Matiss” in honour of his fallen teammate.

The men are both Latvian, and Mr Merzlikins referred to Mr Kivlenieks as his “little brother.”

Blue Jackets Kivlenieks Hockey - Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Mr Kivlenieks suffered damage to his heart and lungs after the firework hit him. The players were celebrating the Fourth of July and a wedding during an outdoor barbecue over the holiday weekend when the accident occurred.

Mr Merzlikins said his declaration that his teammate was a hero was not only his opinion, but the opinion of a doctor at the hospital.

“As [the woman who was married prior to the party] said, he saved his last puck,” Mr Merzlikins said.

During the memorial, Mr Merzlikins recalled the party and his last day with his friend. He said that while he was busy chatting with the numerous party guests, Mr Kivlenieks regularly sought him out to spend time with him.

“We had our last beer, our last shot, last cigar. He was always smiling. I think he made me stronger as a man,” he said.

Manny Legace, the Blue Jackets' goaltending coach who hosted the party, also spoke, saying Mr Kivlenieks became a part of his family during his time with the team.

“Michigan was his second home,” Mr Legace said. “A lot of you guys don't know, but ever since Kivi joined our organisation, he would come up and live with my wife and I every summer. He became a son to us. He lived with us through the pandemic.”

Mr Legace thanked the crowd who attended the memorial, and noted Mr Kivlenieks’s humility in his statement.

“You guys don't know Kivi. He wouldn't want this,” he said. “He'd want everyone to just have a beer and go on their way. But you guys in the Blue Jackets organization have gone overboard, so thank you.” 

Reference: Independent: Graig Graziosi

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