Season Recap: Matiss KivlenieksJul 18, 2020
Matiss Kivlenieks had one word in the back of his mind helping him grow his game throughout his third season with the Cleveland Monsters: trust. The veteran goaltender entered the year focusing on trusting his own game, and all the changes did not go unnoticed by the coaching staff or his teammates.
“He has had good stretches in past [seasons], but one bad game would derail him. This time he was ready for that. When it did happen, he was able to trust the work that he put in,” said Monsters Goaltending Coach Brad Thiessen. “That was a big word for him - trusting. Trust the work he put in and his capabilities so he could fall back on that when a period or game went bad. Reset, refocus and get back to the things that make him successful.
All his time focusing on his mental game paid off as the Riga, Latvia, native found himself starting the 2019-20 season splitting ice time with newcomer Veini Vehvilainen. Kivlenieks posted a 5-1-1 record through the beginning of the year before starting to move between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Cleveland Monsters as the organization’s goalie situations evolved.
“This year I got to see more on how players did their jobs in Columbus and learned a mindset of ‘play your game and trust yourself’. It was focusing on not worrying about other things you cannot control, and I think [I struggled with that] before,” said Kivlenieks. “This year I tried not worrying about a lot of things, and it went well. All the staff was supportive which helped me out a lot too being more comfortable and playing with them.”
Finding himself in a position to be the first goaltender recalled when needed, Kivlenieks made the most of this opportunity working with the staff at both levels while continuing his time in the crease. On December 13th, Kivlenieks helped lead the Monsters to their third shutout of the season, and his first in front of a home crowd, after making 23 saves against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
The veteran netminder’s milestones continued when he made his NHL debut on January 19th against the New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden. Stopping 31 of the shots he faced, Kivlenieks recorded his first NHL win and a memory he would not forget.
“It was amazing playing my first game, especially in a place like MSG. Once the game started, everything disappeared and it just felt like any other hockey game. I didn’t think about where I was at or who I was playing,” said Kivlenieks. “It was just like any other puck drop and after the first save happened, I was in the zone until the game was over. But after it was done, I couldn’t believe it happened.”
Kivlenieks appeared in five more games for the Blue Jackets during the regular season compiling a 1-1-2 record in the NHL before returning to the Monsters in March to close out the AHL season. Finishing with 20 games for Cleveland, Kivlenieks climbed to tie for sixth in franchise history for games played (77) and seventh for wins (27).
“Obviously last year was not the way I wanted it to go. This year it was a big mental step up that a lot of people helped me out with including Coach Eaves, Thiessen and [Jim] Corsi,” said Kivlenieks. “My mindset this year was just go out there, play my game, put in the work, and that is what I did.”