Matiss Kivlenieks, goalkeeper for the Columbus Blue Jackets, died of chest trauma in a Fourth of July fireworks accident, police in Novi, Mich., confirmed Monday. He was 24 years old.
“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 stated 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.
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.
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.
“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.”
In response to Kivlenieks’ death, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made a statement.
“On behalf of the NHL family, we extend our deepest sympathies to his family, friends and teammates in both the Blue Jackets organisation and his native country of Latvia,” Bettman stated. “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 as a free agent with Columbus in May 2017. In eight appearances with the club, he went 2-2-2 with a 3.09 goals-against average and.899 save percentage.
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.