Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks, 24, dies in July 4 accident

Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks, 24, dies after being struck in the chest by out-of-control mortar firework during July 4 hot tub party

  • Michigan police say that 24-year-old Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks died after a fireworks accident in a Detroit suburb on Sunday 
  • Police said a mortar-style firework tilted slightly and started to fire toward people during the July 4 celebration on Sunday in Novi, Michigan 
  • A medical examiner says an autopsy has determined Kivlenieks died of chest trauma from an errant fireworks mortar blast – not a fall as police first reported
  • Prior to the autopsy, police said Kivlenieks was believed to have slipped and hit his head on concrete while running from a malfunctioning firework 
  • Police believe the Latvian-born star’s death to be an accident
  • Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen tweeted: ‘Life is so precious and can be so fragile. Hug your loved ones today. RIP Matiss, you will be dearly missed’ 
  • NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said his ‘love for life and passion for the game will be deeply missed by all those who have been fortunate to have [known him]’
  • In May, Kivlenieks helped Latvia upset the eventual IIHF World Championship winner, Team Canada, with a 2-0 shutout in the group stage in Riga

A medical examiner in Michigan says an autopsy has determined that Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks died of chest trauma from an errant fireworks mortar blast, and not a fall as police previously reported. 

A spokesperson for the Oakland County (Michigan) medical examiner’s office told DailyMail.com that the official cause of death is ‘fireworks mortar blast chest trauma.’

Police in Novi, Michigan said the mortar-style firework tilted slightly after the fuse was lit and started to fire toward people nearby on Sunday night. The 24-year-old Kivlenieks was in a hot tub at the private residence and tried to get clear with several other people, police lieutenant Jason Meier said.  

Kivlenieks was in the Detroit area for the wedding of a coach’s daughter, according to a source familiar with the situation. Witnesses saw Kivlenieks get struck in the chest by a firework as he attempted to run out of the hot tub.  

The fire department and EMTs got to the private home about 10:13pm on Sunday night and took him to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Meier said. An autopsy is scheduled for Monday. Meier told DailyMail.com that an incident report is not expected to be made public until Tuesday, at the earliest, due to the holiday.  

Prior to the autopsy, police said Kivlenieks was believed to have slipped and hit his head on concrete while running from a malfunctioning firework.

‘At the moment, we’re pretty certain this was a tragic accident,’ Meier said.   

Kivlenieks was considered a potential future starter in net for the Blue Jackets. Most recently, he represented Latvia this spring at the world hockey championship in which he played four games. Prior to that, Kivlenieks played two games for the Blue Jackets and eight for the American Hockey League’s Cleveland Monsters this past season.


The Columbus Blue Jackets and Latvian Hockey Federation said Monday that 24-year-old goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks (left, right)  has died from a head injury

Police in Novi, Michigan, said Monday that 24-year-old Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks died after hitting his head following a Fourth of July fireworks accident.

The Blue Jackets and Latvian Hockey Federation announced Kivlenieks’ death earlier Monday, with the NHL club saying it resulted from an apparent head injury in a fall. The team’s statement made no mention of fireworks.

Multiple messages left with team and national federation personnel were not immediately returned.

Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen tweeted: ‘Life is so precious and can be so fragile. Hug your loved ones today. RIP Matiss, you will be dearly missed.’

‘We are shocked and saddened by the loss of Matiss Kivlenieks, and we extend our deepest sympathies to his mother, Astrida, his family and friends during this devastating time,’ Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson said. ‘Kivi was an outstanding young man who greeted every day and everyone with a smile and the impact he had during his four years with our organization will not be forgotten.’

The Blue Jackets called it a ‘tragic accident’ but did not elaborate on what exactly happened 

Bettman said Kivlenieks’ ‘love for life and passion for the game will be deeply missed by all those who have been fortunate to have him as a teammate and a friend.’ 

‘One thing I loved and appreciated about him was he had a great smile and always was in a good mood,’ former Blue Jackets captain told ESPN’s Emily Kaplan. ‘I know it’s cloche but that’s exactly the kind of guy he was. Just enjoying life as a 24-year-old living out his dream and you could tell he didn’t take one day for granted, which makes this tragedy even more hard to bear.

‘Praying for his family and all of us who knew him. Hard day for a lot of people in the organization.’

The Latvian Hockey Federation called his death ‘a great loss not only for Latvian hockey but for the entire Latvian nation’

A native of Riga, Latvia, Kivlenieks signed with the Blue Jackets as a free agent in May 2017 and made only eight appearances for the team over the last two seasons due, in part, to injuries. 

He made his NHL debut against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden in January of 2020, stopping 31 of 32 shots in a 2-1 Blue Jackets win. 

Kivlenieks had recently played for Latvia at the IIHF World Championships. The Latvians were playing in front of home fans in Riga, but still finished just 11th out of 16 national teams. 

Despite the disappointing finish, Kivlenieks helped Latvia upset the eventual tournament champions, Team Canada, with a 2-0 shutout in the group stage. 

The Latvian Hockey Federation called Kivlenieks’ death ‘a great loss not only for Latvian hockey but for the entire Latvian nation.’  

Kivlenieks was perviously named 2017 Player of the Year in the USHL, a national junior hockey league. 

He reportedly planned on preparing for the 2021-22 season by staying in North American rather than returning to Latvia. 

‘The last two years have been really good and I got (NHL) experience,’ he told the Columbus Dispatch. ‘I’m definitely ready for whatever comes my way. … I’ve just got to keep going. There’s still a long way to go, so I’ve just got to keep working.’ 

One Cleveland-area hockey mom shared pictures of her son with Kivlenieks on Instagram, saying that the young netminder met her son at several functions Monsters team functions.

Kivlenieks is pictured alongside a fan at a Cleveland Monsters meet-and-greet event 

Kivlenieks pictured with fans when he was a member of the minor league Cleveland Monsters

Kivlenieks’s death came on the eve of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final in Montreal, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s first chance to win the championship up 3-0 on the Canadiens. Former Columbus captain David Savard learned of it from Foligno.

‘That was a brutal wakeup this morning,’ Savard said in French. ‘That was a good kid with a lot of talent who was going to be a part of the team next year or in the future. That’s extremely sad.’

Kivlenieks was at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington last Tuesday as a guest of IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi.

Rossi announced that day he was going to race the Baja 1000 in Mexico in November, and Kivlenieks took a ride around Mid-Ohio in a Honda Ridgeline to help promote both Rossi and Sunday’s IndyCar race.

‘This hits hard,’ Rossi tweeted. ‘Prayers to the family and the team.’ 

Kivlenieks (background) was at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington last Tuesday as a guest of IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi. Rossi (right) announced that day he was going to race the Baja 1000 in Mexico in November, and Kivlenieks took a ride around Mid-Ohio in a Honda Ridgeline to help promote both Rossi and Sunday’s IndyCar race. ‘This hits hard,’ Rossi tweeted. ‘Prayers to the family and the team’

Kivlenieks’s teammates also shared their grief on social media. ‘Words are hard to find right now, but the day we put the same jersey on meant that we would be family forever,’ tweeted Blue Jackets center Nathan Gerbe (left). ‘When my kids play Kivi ‘the kid’ in goal it will have a greater meaning!! RIP kid, love you brother’ 

Current and former Blue Jackets personnel shared their grief on social media.  

‘Words are hard to find right now, but the day we put the same jersey on meant that we would be family forever,’ tweeted Blue Jackets center Nathan Gerbe. ‘When my kids play Kivi ”the kid” in goal it will have a greater meaning!! RIP kid, love you brother.’ 

‘My heart aches to learn this morning of the passing of Matiss,’ read a tweet from former Blue Jackets’ assistant general manager Bill Zito, who now serves as the Florida Panthers GM. ‘Our Panthers’ family joins the NHL in sending heartfelt condolences to his family, teammates and the Blue Jackets family during this impossibly difficult time.’ 

One Cleveland-area hockey mom shared pictures of her son with Kivlenieks on Instagram while reminiscing about several meetings between the two during his time in the minors. 

‘Matiss has been Maverick’s favorite for years,’ she wrote, referencing her son. ‘He would always take the time to talk to Maverick and he had such a kind soul.

‘Matiss will be missed in our hockey home.’ 

Jay Grossman, Kivlenieks’s agent, paid tribute to his client on Twitter: ‘Shocking, devastating, and heartbreaking loss of wonderful human being with radiant smile, a tremendous young man, Matiss Kivlenieks will be deeply missed. May his memory be a blessing for his mom, Astrida, his teammates, friends, and family.’

A native of Riga, Latvia, Kivlenieks signed with the Blue Jackets as a free agent in May 2017 and played eight teams for the club. The Latvian Hockey Federation called Kivlenieks’ death ‘a great loss not only for Latvian hockey but for the entire Latvian nation’

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