NOVI, Mich, — A medical examiner in Michigan said an autopsy has determined that Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks died of chest trauma from an errant fireworks mortar blast, and not a fall as authorities previously reported.
Police in Novi, Michigan, said the mortar-style firework tilted slightly and started to fire toward people nearby Sunday night. The 24-year-old Kivlenieks was in a hot tub and tried to get clear with several other people, police Lt. Jason Meier said.
The fire department and EMTs got to the private home shortly after 10 p.m. and took him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Meier said. The Oakland County Medical Examiner’s office reported preliminary autopsy results Monday afternoon.
Prior to the autopsy, police said Kivlenieks was believed to have slipped and hit his head on concrete while running from a malfunctioning firework.
“At the moment, we’re pretty certain this was a tragic accident,” Meier said.
The Blue Jackets and Latvian Hockey Federation announced Kivlenieks’ death earlier Monday, with the NHL club saying it resulted from an apparent head injury in a fall. The team’s statement made no mention of fireworks.
It’s with a very heavy heart that we share the news that goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks passed away last night at the age of 24.— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) July 5, 2021
We are heartbroken. Please keep his family in your thoughts and prayers.
Rest in peace, Kivi.https://t.co/o2EDRgxQ5A pic.twitter.com/FCBr0ZaH25
Multiple messages left with team and national federation personnel were not immediately returned.
Late Monday morning, the Cleveland Monsters, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Blue Jackets, also released a statement.
We are shocked and saddened to learn of the passing of Matiss Kivlenieks and send our heartfelt condolences to the Kivlenieks family and to all of his teammates and friends at this time.— Cleveland Monsters (@monstershockey) July 5, 2021
We’ll miss you so much, Kivi. Rest In Peace.https://t.co/JbUyyDNLVg pic.twitter.com/000cF0Kl4j
Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen tweeted: “Life is so precious and can be so fragile. Hug your loved ones today. RIP Matiss, you will be dearly missed.”
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
“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.”
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Kivlenieks’ “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 most 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 American Hockey League’s Cleveland Monsters this past season.
A native of Riga, Latvia, Kivlenieks, who signed with Columbus as a free agent in May 2017, went 2-2-2 with a 3.09 goals-against average and .899 save percentage in eight career games with the club. He made his NHL debut at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 19, 2020, stopping 31-of-32 shots to beat the New York Rangers, 2-1.
He posted a 33-35-9 mark, 3.31 GAA, .896 save percentage and three shutouts in 85 career games with the Monsters from 2017-21.
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 save percentage and one shutout in four games.