Blue Jackets goalie killed in fireworks accident ‘died a hero,’ fellow goaltender says at funeral

COLUMBUS — Teammates, coaches, friends and family members gathered Thursday for the funeral of Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Matiss Kivlenieks, who was killed in a fireworks accident at a Michigan home earlier this month.

Kivlenieks died of chest trauma from an errant fireworks mortar blast in what authorities described as a tragic accident.

“He saved not just many lives, but when it happened, I was standing 20 to 30 feet back of him and I was hugging my wife,” said Elvis Merzlikins, fellow Blue Jackets goalie, who also is from Kivlenieks home country of Latvia. ““He saved my son, he saved my wife and he saved me.”

>> Prosecutor to review goalie Kivlenieks’ fireworks death

Merzlikins stood beside Blue Jackets goalie coach Manny Legace as he reflected on meeting Kivlenieks for the first time. Merzlikins called the 24-year-old his little brother. Kivlenieks had lived with Merzlikins during his time in Columbus, his teammate said.

“He was always smiling,” Merzlikins said during Thursday’s funeral services. “I think he made me stronger as a man.”

Kivlenieks legacy will live on through Merzlikins’ as he and his wife are planning to use Matiss as their son’s second name when he is born.

Police in Michigan have turned over their investigation to a prosecutor for review.

The Novi Police Department has not requested charges in Kivlenieks’ Fourth of July death, Lt. Jason Meier said Monday.

“Due to the high-profile nature, we wanted an extra set of eyes (on the case),” said Meier, adding that the police investigation was complete unless otherwise directed by the Oakland County prosecutor’s office.

The Associated Press contributed to this report