Elvis Merzlikins wants to win the Vezina Trophy this season as a tribute to former Columbus Blue Jackets teammate Matiss Kivlenieks.
Kivlenieks died in a fireworks accident July 4 at age 24.
“I don’t want to make any promises, but I can tell you … my plan is to win a Vezina Trophy,” Merzlikins told The Athletic in comments published Tuesday. “I’m gonna win a … Vezina for him. We can’t make promises because this is hockey and we don’t know how the season can go, but this is my goal. I believe I’m going to reach it.”
The Vezina Trophy is awarded annually to the goalie voted the best in the NHL.
Merzlikins was 8-12-5 with a 2.77 goals-against average, .916 save percentage and two shutouts in 28 games (23 starts) for the Blue Jackets last season. He is expected to continue splitting playing time with Joonas Korpisalo similar to last season. Korpisalo was 9-13-7 with a 3.30 GAA and .894 save percentage in 33 games (31 starts).
Kivlenieks was 1-1-0 with a 3.40 GAA and .901 save percentage in two games (both starts) for Columbus last season.
“I understand there is me and ‘Korpi,’ and most probably we have to split the season,” Merzlikins said. “That’s business. I have my opinions. Columbus has their opinions. What I can say to you is, ‘I want to play hockey.’ I know Korpi wants to play as well. For our sake, it’s better to play more games.”
The Blue Jackets (18-26-12) tied the Detroit Red Wings for last in the eight-team Discover Central Division and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2016.
Merzlikins has credited Kivlenieks for saving the life of himself; his wife, Aleksandra; and their then-unborn child. Merzlikins and Kivlenieks were in Novi, Michigan, for the holiday weekend to celebrate the wedding of Blue Jackets goaltending coach Manny Legace’s daughter, Sabrina. At a memorial service for Kivlenieks on July 15, Merzlikins said he and Aleksandra were hugging about 20-30 feet behind Kivlenieks when he was hit in the chest with a stray mortar.
The baby boy, who was born Aug. 20, was named Knox Matiss Merzlikins.
Merzlikins said he planned on asking Kivlenieks to be Knox’s godfather. He also said Kivlenieks’ death was like losing a younger brother and that he’s receiving therapy to help.
“I’m not in pain,” Merzlikins said. “Obviously I miss my friend. But this is what surprises me, that I’m really not in pain and it’s not disturbing me to focus on my life. I’m happy that I can move on. When I talk about him, I have no problem at all. When I talk about him, it comes from my heart, and you want to cry, but I cry from happiness, not from sadness. I believe he made me stronger.”