NHL: Jackets G Elvis Merzlikins wears late Matiss Kivlenieks’ jersey number

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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.

–Field Level Media

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