CLEVELAND – On October 15, 2017, Matiss Kivlenieks made his professional debut in Manitoba as the Cleveland Monsters took on the Moose. Due to the game taking place in enemy territory, there was no pomp and circumstance for the rookie. The only cheers he heard were after goals he let into the net. Everyone in the arena was hoping Kivlenieks would fail so their team may prevail.
However, on October 15, 2021, the vibe was much different. 9,035 people showed up to Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse to tell Kivlenieks they love him. Unfortunately, they were not there to root him on as he took his place between the pipes. They were there to grieve and honor his life. A life that ended far earlier than any of us ever expected it would.
After the starting lineups were announced, the Monsters played a lovely tribute video in honor of their beloved goaltender. As the tribute rolled on, Kivlenieks’ game worn jersey was placed in the crease with a line sprightly shining down upon it. Afterwards there was a moment of silence. Not a sound could be heard until the very end when a fan bellowed out the words “We love you Matiss!” Within seconds, the “Kivi! Kivi! Kivi!” chants filled Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
When the chants faded away, it was announced that Kivlenieks’ family was in the building and would be partaking in the ceremonial puck drop. The fans who had just sat down sprang to their feet and wildly cheered for his family. A sign of raucous respect for the people who shaped Kivlenieks into the man the fans loved so dearly.
After the game, Monsters Head Coach Mike Eaves was asked how the team was able to balance themselves coming into tonight’s game knowing there was a somber moment ahead of them. He quickly responded with, “I think it’s different for everyone.” Then, Eaves went on to explain the emotions he felt the night before when the Columbus Blue Jackets did their ceremony for Kivlenieks. “I know last night watching the ceremony in Columbus I was misty. At home,” said Coach Eaves.
Before he finished answering the question, Eaves took a moment to center himself and then hit everyone with a quote that left barely a dry eye in the post game scrum. “Even though Kivi is not here with us, he was such a special lad. That a piece of him is going to be around us all, that’s for sure.”
There were little ways Kivlenieks made his presence known throughout the night. The most notable happened during a lengthy break to fix the glass that popped out of the stanchion. When the camera landed on a woman with a beer in her hands, she immediately began chugging the beer. The cameraman panned to another person in the audience. They began chugging their beer too. This continued to happen for about six or seven more people in the stands.
Kivlenieks would have loved to see that happen. He would have been looking up at the humongotron, chuckling about the hijinx going on off the ice.
Seeing the fans full of life always seemed to always make Kivlenieks happy.
Despite falling to the Syracuse Crunch 6-4, the Monsters still managed to put on the kind of wild show Kivlenieks loved to be a part of in Cleveland. Well, sans the losing part.
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But even in losing, Kivlenieks wouldn’t have been worried about the season. He would have said something along the lines of “It would have been nice to get the win, but we will get them tomorrow.” Or my favorite: “It’s okay. It’s going to be okay.”
It’s going to be okay in Cleveland.