How the Blue Jackets Organization Is Moving Through The Toughest Time in Franchise History

By Jacob Nitzberg on July 8, 2021 at 9:45 am
John Davidson (left) and Jarmo Kekalainen (right) address the media.
Channel 6 News

It has been an absolutely brutal few days since the news of Matiss Kivlenieks' untimely death.

John Davidson and Jarmo Kekalainen were strong enough yesterday to conduct a press conference, which is commendable and impressive.

During their availability, they each made statements about Kivlenieks and then fielded a few questions. The two men were emotional, and it was clear that the toll this has taken on them and the rest of the Blue Jackets community is significant.

Memorializing Matiss

Kekalainen and Davidson spoke at length about what a great man Kivlenieks was.

"He always had the right attitude, the positive attitude," said Kekalainen of Kivlenieks. "He came to the rink with a smile on his face, whether he was playing or the backup."

A memorial is being planned, but the details aren't finalized yet. "We're right in the middle of working on (memorial plans)," said Davidson. "We're hoping to get that finalized shortly."

They saw Kivlenieks as someone with a bright future within the organization. Originally undrafted, Kivlenieks signed with the Blue Jackets as a free agent in 2017 and quickly ascended through the organization. 

"We projected him as a full-time NHL goalie, with a lot of potential...we felt that he was going to be a big part of our future," said Kekalainen.

Larsen's Dedication

When the news of the tragedy broke, Brad Larsen immediately left his home and headed for Michigan. He spent the last three days there, supporting the families involved and helping out in any way he could before returning home yesterday.

"A gigantic, huge thank you to Brad Larsen," said Davidson. "He has been there with families, and supporting and leading and showing compassion. This is a spectacular person for what he’s done."

Ongoing Investigation 

Davidson and Kekalainen wouldn't comment on any details of what happened, due to the active investigation regarding what transpired at Manny Legace's home. It was supposed to be a celebration of Legace's daughter's wedding, but it ended tragically.

"I ask that you keep the Legace family, who considered Kivi a son and a brother, in your thoughts as they are understandably distraught," said Davidson. "I ask that you do the same for Elvis Merzlikins and his wife, Aleksandra, who was there too. They were Kivi's closest friends and they were with him that night. This is a devastating loss for them and for all of us, one that will always be with us."

Both Legace and Merzlikins were present when the incident occurred. Brian Hedger of the Columbus Dispatch reported that they were the only two members of the Blue Jackets organization at the Legace home.

Help Made Available

With a tragedy like this one, the mental effects can be long-term and devastating. Merzlikins and Kivlenieks had an inseparable bond, as did Legace and Kivlenieks. According to Davidson, the organization has made counseling available to anyone who may need it.

Davidson declined to comment on whether any players were using those services, saying that it was not his place to discuss such information.