Blue Jackets goalie Matiss Kivlenieks dies in July 4 fireworks accident

Matiss Kivlenieks is shown playing for Latvia during the IIHF 2021 World Ice Hockey Championships in Riga, Latvia, on May 28. File Photo by Toms Kalnins/EPA-EFE
Matiss Kivlenieks is shown playing for Latvia during the IIHF 2021 World Ice Hockey Championships in Riga, Latvia, on May 28. File Photo by Toms Kalnins/EPA-EFE

July 5 (UPI) -- Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks died of chest trauma in a Fourth of July fireworks accident, police in Novi, Mich., said Monday. He was 24.

"It is with profound sadness that the Columbus Blue Jackets announce goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks passed away [Sunday] night at the age of 24 as the result of a tragic accident," the team said in a statement.


Lt. Jason Meier of the Novi Police Department told ESPN first responders found the Latvian goalie injured at a private home late Sunday.

Meier initially said it appeared Kivlenieks died after hitting his head during a fall as he and others exited a hot tub and fled from malfunctioning fireworks.

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After an initial autopsy performed by the Oakland County Medical Examiner, however, it was determined that he died of a percussive injury to his internal organs as a result of a fireworks explosion, the Detroit Free Press reported, when the mortar-style firework tilted slightly and started to fire at people nearby.


"There appears to be some fireworks that accidentally went off and launched in the direction of Mr. Kivlenieks and others who were seated in the hot tub," Meier said.

Kivlenieks was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

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Authorities did not identify who owns the home where the accident happened, but the Columbus Dispatch reported that Blue Jackets goaltending coach Manny Legace lives in Novi, a suburb of Detroit, during the off-season.

Kivlenieks and fellow Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins had mentioned last week they intended to go to Novi for the holiday weekend to visit Legace, the newspaper said.

"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 in a news release.

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"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."

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman also issued a statement on the death of Kivlenieks.


"On behalf of the NHL family, we extend our deepest sympathies to his family, friends and teammates in both the Blue Jackets organization and his native country of Latvia," Bettman said. "His 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."

Kivlenieks signed with Columbus as a free agent in May 2017. He posted a 2-2-2 record with a 3.09 goals-against average and .899 save percentage in eight career games with the club.

He made his NHL debut at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers on Jan. 19, 2020, stopping 31 of 32 shots in a 2-1 Blue Jackets victory.

He represented Latvia at several international tournaments including the 2021 IIHF World Championships this spring, where he went 1-2 with a 2.18 GAA, .922 SV% and one shutout in four games.

Notable deaths of 2021

Betty White
Betty White attends the media preview for the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association's Beastly Ball fundraiser at the Los Angeles Zoo in Los Angeles on June 11, 2015. The actress died December 31. She was 99 years old. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

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