Jackets' Merzlikins going 'all-in' for Vezina in honor of Kivlenieks

Ben Jackson / National Hockey League / Getty

After a summer spent walking the complicated line between tragedy and joy, Columbus Blue Jackets netminder Elvis Merzlikins is entering the fall with a renewed sense of focus and motivation.

Now, Merzlikins has his newborn son to think about. Knox Matiss Merzlikins was born in August - just one month after Merzlikins witnessed the death of close friend and fellow goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks during a freak fireworks accident on July 4.

"At the end of the day, my peace is that I told (Matiss) everything. The only thing I didn’t tell him was … after the Fourth of July I was going to ask him to be a godfather for Knox," Merzlikins said in an interview with The Athletic's Aaron Portzline. "This is the only piece where I feel, not guilty, but I missed saying something to him."

Merzlikins credited Kivlenieks with saving his family's life and said making Knox's middle name "Matiss" was "the least I could do" to pay tribute.

However, there's one more way Merzlikins plans to honor "little brother" Kivlenieks' memory: Become the league's top goaltender.

"It's another stem of motivation, to do it better for Matiss because he's not going to be able to do that," he said. "I'm gonna win a f------ 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. I'm not going to have any limits. I'm just gonna go all-in."

The 27-year-old said he's "grateful" for the Blue Jackets' support and is still talking to a doctor, which he added has been helpful with navigating his grief.

"I’m not in pain. Obviously, I miss my friend. But this is what surprises me ... it’s not disturbing me to focus on my life. I’m happy that I can move on," Merzlikins said. "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."

Merzlikins is expected to split the crease with Joonas Korpisalo this campaign behind a new-look blue line.

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Jackets' Merzlikins going 'all-in' for Vezina in honor of Kivlenieks
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