Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks died Sunday from an apparent head injury he suffered during a fall. He was 24.
Police in Novi, Michigan, confirmed to The Associated Press that Kivlenieks slipped and fell while fleeing a hot tub due to a “firework malfunction.” He hit his head on concrete.
In a statement, the Blue Jackets called it a “tragic accident,” adding that medical personnel arrived at the scene to treat Kivlenieks but he died “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,” 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 Riga, Latvia, native was in Ohio last week for Mid Ohio, an IndyCar road race, and partook in an off-roading ride-along with IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi. He had just returned from Latvia and planned to spend the summer in Columbus to train. It is unclear why Kivlenieks was in Michigan at the time of his death.
“The National Hockey League was saddened to learn of the sudden and tragic passing of goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks,” NHL ommissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “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.”
Known as “Kivi” to teammates, Kivlenieks was signed as a free agent in May 2017 by the Blue Jackets. He made his NHL debut on Jan. 19, 2020, and stopped 31 of 32 shots for a 2-1 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. In eight career NHL games, he compiled a 2-2-2 record with a 3.09 goals-against average and .899 save percentage. This season he made two starts, both against the Red Wings, going 1-1-0 with a .901 save percentage. With the Blue Jackets AHL affiliate, the Cleveland Monsters, he posted a 33-35-9 mark, 3.31 GAA, .896 SV% and three shutouts in 85 career games
“I got a text from Nick Foligno this morning,” David Savard, a member of the Blue Jackets up until the trade deadline, said in a translated interview. “We played together a long time. That’s extremely sad news. That’s a guy who was close to the teams, he traveled with the team all year long (as a member of the taxi squad). That was a brutal wake-up 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.”
In May, Kivlenieks suited up for Latvia at the 2021 IIHF World Championships where he went 1-2 with a 2.18 GAA, .922 SV% and one shutout in four games. That one win was a 2-0 shutout over the eventual champions, Canada. He stopped all 38 shots he saw.
Teammates and the hockey world reacted on Twitter to the tragic news:
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