Back in April 2014, current Wisconsin Muskies President and Head Coach, Dennis Canfield, took a job coaching the Forest Lake Lakers – all because of one young man. His name is Matiss Kivlenieks. Now, three years later, the things Canfield saw the first day he watched Kivlenieks play, have come true. “I flew to Minnesota to meet with several teams about taking over their program. I remember sitting in the Bloomington Ice Gardens watching the play-off game between the Lakers and the Twin City Northern Lights of the Minnesota Junior Hockey League. I was sure the goalie for the Lakers had the talent to play in the National Hockey League and I felt I could help his development. It was at that moment I knew the Lakers were the right fit for me; I took the job that night.” remembers Canfield.
(2014 - 2015 Season with the Forest Lake Lakers)
A strong bond quickly formed between player and coach; one that has transitioned to a lifelong friendship. While playing under Canfield, Kivlenieks was named the league’s “Most Valuable Player” and he won a World Junior Hockey Championship with Team Latvia where he was named “Most Valuable Goaltender”. Upon returning from the Worlds, Kivlenieks was called up by the Coulee Region Chill of the NAHL. At this point the hockey world began to see what Canfield already knew. “He skated with a number of NAHL teams during the course of the season as well as USHL teams after the season and I personally drove him to each one. To our utter amazement, everyone passed on him, which frustrated this young man. “He lived with me that summer and we spent countless hours training and talking about how his day would come and that he just had to trust the process. His break finally came when he signed his tender in the NAHL with the Chill. I had a good relationship with the Assistant Coach there and I advised Matiss and his family that I trusted he would be taken care of,” said Canfield. In addition to signing with the Chill, Matiss had the unique opportunity to attend the Nashville Predators Rookie Camp, which Coach Canfield helped facilitate. While he didn’t make the Predators, it was an experience that helped propel Kivlenieks into two outstanding years: first at Tier 2 with the NAHL and then Tier 1 with the USHL. Canfield laughs as he remembers, “The kid had no car, no US phone, and barely had an email. His primary means of communication seemed to be Snapchat.” From that point on, everyone knew this kid was the real deal. He was selected 5th overall by Sioux City Musketeers in the 2016 USHL draft. Kivlenieks went on to appear in 49 games, finished the season 36-7-4-2 with a 1.85 GAA, a .932 Save % and 5 shutouts. This outstanding record led him to be named both the “USHL Player” and “Goaltender” of the Year for the 2016-17 season as voted by the USHL teams.
(May 23, 2017 After the USHL Championship Game)
Coach Canfield, who talks to Matiss regularly, is not surprised by all of the attention his former player is getting. Aside from the accolades, he reflects fondly on his relationship with Matiss. “I am so proud of him. He is an amazing young man who’s humble and doesn’t forget where he comes from. He is truly like a son to me and will always be my guy.” This week Coach Canfield cut short a two-week recruiting trip to British Columbia, so he and his dad could attend the deciding game 5 of the USHL Championship in Sioux City, IA. Unfortunately, Sioux City would lose in overtime, but Coach Canfield knew it was important for him to be there. “I texted Matiss that we were there but still had to wait for him to come out of the locker room – not surprising since he’s a goalie. We had a 7-hour over-night drive back to Spooner, but it was worth the wait.”
(During the 2017 USHL Championship Game)
“Success stories like this are exactly why we do what we do as coaches. Sometimes kids get overlooked and just need someone to believe in them,” stated Canfield.
“Your Town… Your Arena… Your Team…”