Matiss Kivlenieks, 24, of the Columbus Blue Jackets, died Monday after hitting his head during a Fourth of July fireworks accident, according to police in Novi, Michigan.
According to Novi Police Lt. Jason Meier, a mortar-style firework tilted slightly and began to fire toward people nearby. Kivlenieks was in a hot tub when he fled with several others, but he slipped and hit his head on concrete, according to Meier.
Meier said the fire department and EMTs arrived at the private home around 10:13 p.m. on Sunday night and transported him to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead. On Monday, an autopsy will be performed.
“Right now, we’re pretty sure this was a tragic accident,” Meier said.
Kivlenieks made two starts for the Blue Jackets last season and recently represented Latvia at the IIHF World Championships. In his NHL career, he appeared in eight games and was expected to compete for more playing time next season.
“We are shocked and saddened by Matiss Kivlenieks’ death, and we extend our heartfelt condolences to his mother, Astrida, as well as his family and friends during this difficult time,” Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson said in a statement. “Kivi was an outstanding young man who greeted every day and everyone with a smile, and the impact he had on our organisation during his four years with us will not be forgotten.”
“One thing I loved and appreciated about him was he had a great smile and was always in a good mood,” former Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said in a text message to ESPN’s Emily Kaplan. “I know it sounds corny, but that’s exactly the type of guy he was. You could tell he didn’t take one day for granted as a 24-year-old living out his dream, which makes this tragedy all the more heartbreaking. I’m praying for his family and everyone who knew him. It was a difficult day for many people in that organisation.”
Kivlenieks’ death was announced by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in a statement.
“On behalf of the NHL family, we express our heartfelt condolences to his family, friends, and teammates in both the Blue Jackets organisation and his native Latvia,” Bettman said in a statement. “His love of life and passion for the game will be deeply missed by all those who were fortunate to have him as a teammate and friend.”
Jarmo Kekalainen, the general manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets, also expressed his condolences on Twitter.
Life is so precious and can be so fragile. Hug your loved ones today. RIP Matiss, you will be dearly missed.
— Jarmo Kekalainen (@jkekalainen) July 5, 2021
Kivlenieks, who went undrafted, signed as a free agent with Columbus in 2017. On January 19, 2020, he made his NHL debut at Madison Square Garden, stopping 31 of 32 shots in a 2-1 victory over the New York Rangers.
Kivlenieks and fellow Columbus goaltender Elvis Merzlikins attended a ride-along event at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course last week. According to ESPN, Kivlenieks was spending the summer in the United States at the time of his death.