Elvis Merzlikins lost his best friend on July 4.
Matiss Kivlenieks tragically lost his life in a fireworks accident in Michigan.
After the death of his friend and fellow Blue Jackets goaltender, Merzlikins never heard the Blue Jackets' in-arena cannon the same.
"When I heard the cannon, I felt my heart beating," Merzlikins said. "I never heard my heartbeat that alive."
When Merzlikins talked to the media at a post-season media availability on Saturday, he spoke about his play on the ice and the grieving process he's gone through.
The toughest part of his season was around Christmas time, because he and Kivlenieks would spend the holiday together.
"It's not an excuse," Merzlikins said. "But before the Christmas period, I wasn't here. I wasn't here mentally because I felt Christmas was coming closer and Matiss was always with us on Christmas and (the) New Year."
Around that same time, Merzlikins had an emotional moment before a game with Blue Jackets goaltending coach Manny Legace, someone who Merzlikins considers to be his "best friend for the rest of my life."
"And then I heard the [New Year's] fireworks," he said. "I remember we played the 1st [of January], and I asked [head coach Brad Larsen], I couldn't even talk.
"I knew that I couldn't play that game because I knew there was going to be fireworks and if I heard them, it was going to be a problem. I remember I walked to Manny and I just started crying. I couldn't even express myself."
Relationship With Manny Legace
Merzlikins credited Legace for helping him earn a contract extension with the Blue Jackets that will see him make $27 million over the next five seasons.
"I would not get to the contract I have now," he said. "That's thanks to him."
He also added that he, Legace, and Legace's wife Giana have become family.
"Manny and his wife Gi became my parents," he said. "I call Gi my mom and I call Manny my dad. It has nothing to do with hockey. When you come to the rink, he's your coach. When you're outside the rink, you can tell him a lot of things."
Elvis On Ice
This season, Merzlikins played 59 games, which was tied for sixth-most in the NHL.
He posted a record of 27-23-7 with a .907 save%. According to moneypuck.com, he finished with 4.0 goals saved above expected. He kept his team in nearly every game this season, which is all you can ask from your goaltender. Before this season, Merzlikins played in 61 career games, so playing in 59 in a single season was a new challenge for him.
"This year I learned a lot," he said. "It was hard. It was hard to go through this thing. It's like you want to jump from a cliff, it's super high for you, you're going to be scared, but once you do that, you're not afraid anymore so you're going to jump and jump and keep jumping."
Even though the Blue Jackets won't be in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Merzlikins said he will use the upcoming IIHF World Championships as "my playoffs" when he suits up for his native Latvia.
He said he is "ready for next season to play however many games I'm going to play."
Last October, he heard his heart beating when he heard the cannon. Five months later, Merzlikins said he's in a better place.
"That's just a trauma, but it went away," he said. "Now when I hear the cannon, I'm happy."