Hockey goalies are … well, different than other athletes. For that matter, different than other people. Most people, should they ever be faced with others smacking frozen rubber discs in excess of a hundred miles an hour at them, would do their best to get out of the way. Goalies do everything they can to get in the way.
Goalies are perhaps the most limber athletes this side of Simone Biles. Don’t believe me? Watch one warm up before a period. Full splits. Bending backward while sitting on the ice until the back of their head almost touches the ice. Some will even go from the aforementioned full splits to standing up in one motion. All while on skates and wearing nearly fifty pounds of gear.
Hockey is family to a degree no other sport can match, an unbreakable bond among players, coaches, officials, and fans. No other sport has all the members of each team shake hands after a playoff series. I remember a game at the end of the regular season in San Jose between the Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings. The Sharks were in the playoffs, the Kings were not. The game itself was a study in indifference by both teams, but at the end something magic happened. It was the great Luc Robitaille’s last game, and as the third period drew to a close, without prompting the fans in the Shark Tank rose as one and applauded Robitaille, chanting “LUUUUC” just as boisterously as though it was the Forum filled with Kings fans.
Earlier this month, the hockey world was stunned when Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks died after being hit with fireworks during a 4th of July party. During a memorial service in Columbus held Thursday, it was revealed that Kivlenieks’ final save was the greatest save of all.
"He saved my son, he saved my wife and he saved me. … He died as hero."
Elvis Merzlikins at the memorial service for Matiss Kivlenieks. Kivlenieks died after he was struck in the chest by a fireworks mortar shell on July 4. pic.twitter.com/69C09ggG67
— Sporting News (@sportingnews) July 15, 2021
Kivlenieks’ cause of death was chest trauma from a fireworks mortar blast. A nine-shell mortar tube rack, which should have been pointing upward, fell over to one side before discharging its last two shells. Kivlenieks, who was in a hot tub, stood up after the penultimate shell, shot while the rack was tipping over, flew overhead. As a result, the final shell struck him.
Kivlenieks’ friend and fellow Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins commented at the memorial service:
I have a lot of experience in my life now, having a little baby coming up. 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. He saved my son, he saved my wife, and he saved me…. My son’s second name is going to be Matiss. But except that – if that wasn’t me or my wife or son, that would be 50 other people. He died as hero, and I am – and that’s not me saying. That was the doctor saying. If he would just sit, what would happen, nothing. And as Sabrina said, he saved his last puck. I just want to let you know that he was a hero. He saved a lot of lives, and I’m pretty sure he did that with a smile, because it’s true.
— Lindsey – #80 🇱🇻 (@JacketsLindsey) July 6, 2021
Whether it was an act of simultaneously tragic and fortunate timing, or whether Kivlenieks intentionally put himself in harm’s way, is a question that cannot be answered. Regardless, whether by design or not, Kivlenieks undoubtedly saved the lives of others by sacrificing his own.
There’s really nothing else needing to be said, is there?