“Everything you’ve read about him is entirely accurate.”
That’s how San Jose Sharks assistant coach John Madden described Mattis Kivlenieks. The goaltender played for Madden on the Cleveland Monsters from 2017-19.
The 24-year-old goaltender was killed by an errant fireworks mortar blast a month ago at an Independence Day party. During Kivlenieks’s memorial service, teammate Elvis Merzlikins said Kivlenieks saved others, including Merzlikins’s wife and their unborn child, when he stopped the explosive.
“I’m not surprised,” Madden told San Jose Hockey Now. “Because that’s the type of guy he was. He was always putting people first.”
That was Kivlenieks from the moment that he joined Madden-helmed Cleveland straight out of the USHL as a 21-year-old in October 2017.
“He was always smiles, always working hard,” Madden recalled. “He was just respectful to everybody. He put his teammates first.
“He was there to try and get better, but also to help everybody else out as well.”
Madden remembers a mature young man, who skipped the normal USHL-to-college route to go straight to the AHL. Kivlenieks played 43 games for the Monsters in 2017-18, a number-one goalie in the AHL who had just turned 21.
“We wouldn’t play very good in front of him and he’d see like 40 shots. We get a TV timeout and I’d be like, ‘Hang in there.’ And he’s like, ‘Oh no, I’m good, I’m good,'” Madden recounted. “He was always positive.
“All his teammates loved him. I never heard a bad thing about him at all. In fact, it was the opposite, [I heard] how much they enjoyed being around him.”
The feeling was mutual.
“He just enjoyed being around the guys,” Madden said. “He was always first one at the rink. Last one to leave. I remember seeing [him] when I was staying hours after practice.”
Madden’s favorite memory of Matiss Kivlenieks?
“You could see him light up when we were going to play Rockford,” Madden laughed. “His first two seasons that I had him, I don’t think he lost a game in Rockford.”
Kivlenieks was 4-0-0 with a .959 Save % against the IceHogs during Madden’s Cleveland tenure.
Like everybody else, Madden was looking forward to what was next for the emerging goaltending prospect.
“Manny Legace and Brad Thiessen, the two goalie development guys there, they’ve always, from day one, they said this kid’s got something and it’s just gonna take some time,” Madden recalled wistfully.
Legace was Monsters goaltending coach and Thiessen was a teammate during Kivlenieks’s rookie AHL campaign. Both were also in attendance at the party — held at Legace’s Michigan house and celebrating Legace’s daughter’s wedding — where Kivlenieks died.
It was taking some time — four AHL campaigns — but Kivlenieks was on the cusp of being an NHL regular. He had played eight NHL games over the last two seasons.
Madden, for his part, wasn’t surprised at all by Mattis Kivlenieks’s upward trajectory, which included backstopping Latvia’s first-ever victory over Canada in the 2021 World Championships this year.
“The whole time that I coached there and he was there, I just remember him showing up every day and smiling, ready to go,” Madden said. “Just kept things going forward. No matter what happened, he just kept going forward.”
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