NHL goalie dies of chest trauma in fireworks accident

Matiss Kivlenieks # 80 of the Columbus Blue Jackets watches during the game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Detroit Red Wings at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio on May 8, 2021 (Photo by Jason Mowry / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

A Michigan medical examiner said an autopsy determined Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks died of chest trauma caused by fireworks mortar fire, not a fall, as authorities previously reported.

Police in Novi, Mich., Said the mortar-style firework tilted slightly and began shooting at people nearby on Sunday evening. Kivleniek, 24, was in a hot tub and tried to extricate himself with several other people, Police Lt. Jason Meier said.

Firefighters and paramedics attended the private home shortly after 10 p.m. and took him to hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Meier said. The Oakland County Medical Examiner’s Office released the preliminary autopsy results on Monday afternoon.

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Before the autopsy, police said Kivlenieks allegedly slipped and hit his head against concrete while fleeing from faulty fireworks.

“At the moment we’re pretty sure it was a tragic accident,” Meier said.

The Blue Jackets and the Latvian Hockey Federation have announced Kivlenieks’ death, with the NHL club claiming it was the result of an apparent head injury during a fall. The team’s statement made no mention of fireworks.

Columbus CEO Jarmo Kekalainen tweeted: “Life is so precious and can be so fragile. Hold your loved ones today. RIP Matiss, we will miss you dearly.” Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson called it a “devastating time” for the team.

“Kivi was an exceptional young man who greeted everyone every day with a smile and the impact he had during his four years with our organization will not be forgotten,” he said. .

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“What a tragic loss for all of us who knew him and I think and pray for his family,” tweeted former Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno. “Heaven has won a damn good guardian and a better person… That’s right, way too soon.”

Former Columbus defender David Savard learned about it from Foligno.

“It was a rude awakening this morning,” Savard said in French. “He was a good boy with a lot of talent who was going to be part of the team next year or in the future. It’s extremely sad.”

Kivlenieks’ death came on the eve of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final in Montreal, where the Tampa Bay Lightning had the chance to win the championship against the Canadiens on Monday night.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said “Kivlenieks’ love for life and passion for the game will be deeply missed by all who were fortunate enough to have him as a teammate and friend.”

The Latvian Hockey Federation called the death of Kivlenieks “a great loss not only for Latvian hockey, but for the whole Latvian nation”.

Kivlenieks recently represented Latvia this spring at the World Hockey Championship in which he played four games. He played two games for the Blue Jackets and eight for the Cleveland Monsters of the American Hockey League last season.

Hailing from Riga, Latvia, Kivlenieks signed with the Blue Jackets as a free agent in May 2017 and played eight games for the club in total. He has been considered a possible No. 2 goalie next season if Joonas Korpisalo or Elvis Merzlikins are traded.

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

Rossi announced that day that he would be racing the Baja 1000 in Mexico in November, and Kivlenieks toured Mid-Ohio in a Honda Ridgeline to help promote both Rossi and Sunday’s IndyCar race.

“It hits hard,” Rossi tweeted. “Prayer to the family and to the team.”


Associated Press editors Mitch Stacy and Kathleen Foody, and AP Auto Racing writer Jenna Fryer contributed.

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