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Merzlikins pays tribute to late Blue Jackets teammate Kivlenieks on mask

Columbus goalies were like brothers before the 24-year-old's death on July 4

by Cristina Ledra @cledra / NHL.com Staff Writer

Elvis Merzlikins is paying tribute to late Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Matiss Kivlenieks through his mask for this season.

Both from Latvia, the two were teammates in Columbus and Merzlikins considered Kivlenieks to be a little brother before his death on July 4 in a fireworks accident. During Kivlenieks' memorial service, Merzlikins spoke about how the errant firework shell that struck the 24-year-old would've hit him and his pregnant wife had Kivlenieks not been in front of them. When Aleksandra Merzlinkins gave birth to the baby boy, they named him Knox Matiss Merzlikins.

The party where the incident happened was at Blue Jackets goaltending coach Manny Legace's house and dozens had gathered to celebrate his daughter Sabrina's wedding. At the memorial service, Merzlikins also mentioned that Sabrina had said Kivlenieks made his last save, which became the quote on Merzlikins' new mask.

Other symbols in tribute to Kivlenieks include his No. 80 with angel wings on the front of the mask and the Blue Jackets goal cannon similar to the one Kivlenieks had on his mask on one side. Mask artist David Gunnarsson of DaveArt did the artwork.

"I want him close to me," Merzlikins told the Blue Jackets website. "I always want him with me. I know he is going to always be with me and he is going to look on from up there and help me. That's the minimum of what he can do for me because he is not here with anymore with us. The passion and love that he had for this game, that is what he is going to do, and I believe that."

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