The NHL world has been hit by a sudden death. Columbus Blue Jackets’ goalie Matiss Kivlenieks passed away at 24 Sunday night following a fall, as per a team statement:
It is with profound sadness that the Columbus Blue Jackets announce goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks passed away last night at the age of 24 as the result of a tragic accident. The Riga, Latvia native suffered an apparent head injury in a fall. Medical personnel were called immediately, but he succumbed a short time later.
“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,” said Blue Jackets President of Hockey Operations John Davidson. “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.”
Update: As per Jonathan Lemire of The Associated Press, a medical examiner in Novi, Michigan (where this happened)has now attributed this death to “chest trauma caused by a fireworks mortar blast”:
NOVI, Michigan (AP) — A medical examiner says Columbus goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks died of chest trauma caused by a fireworks mortar blast.
— Jonathan Lemire (@JonLemire) July 5, 2021
As an earlier tweet from Aaron Portzline of The Athletic shows, local police previously said Kivlenieks slipped and fell while “fleeing a hot tub after a fireworks malfunction”:
Novi, Mich., say an autopsy will be performed later today on Kivlenieks, but they’re treating his death as accidental.
Lt. Jason Meier would not comment when asked if other #CBJ players were present with Kivlenieks.
— Aaron Portzline (@Aportzline) July 5, 2021
Here’s more on that from Stephen Whyno of The Associated Press:
Lt. Jason Meier of the Novi Police Department said a mortar-style firework tilted slightly and started to fire toward people nearby. Kivlenieks was in a hot tub and fled along with several other people, but he slipped and hit his head on concrete, Meier said.
The fire department and EMTs got to the private home about 10:13 on Sunday night and took him to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Meier said. An autopsy is scheduled for Monday.
Players who knew Kivlenieks have chimed in with tributes, including former teammate David Savard, now with the Tampa Bay Lightning:
Ex-CBJ/now TB defenseman David Savard said in French Nick Foligno texted him about Matiss Kivlenieks.
"That was a brutal wakeup this morning. 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."
— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) July 5, 2021
And NHL commissioner Gary Bettman added a statement of condolences:
“The National Hockey League was saddened to learn of the sudden and tragic passing of goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks,” said Commissioner Gary Bettman. “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. 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.”
The Blue Jackets signed Kivlenieks (seen above in a May 7 game against the Detroit Red Wings) as an undrafted free agent back in 2017. He first played for them in 2019-20, appearing in six games that season (and starting four). He started two games for them this past season, and also played for Latvia at the IIHF World Championships. Our thoughts go out to his family and friends.
[BlueJackets.com; photo from Aaron Doster/USA Today Sports]