Matiss Kivlenieks, a hockey player for the Columbus Blue Jackets, died Sunday while attending a wedding at his coach’s home in Novi, Michigan. The Hawaiian-themed wedding, which was hosted by Blue Jacket goaltending coach went awry when mortar-style fireworks tilted and began to fire toward people. Kivlenieks was struck in the chest by a mortar and was pronounced dead at the hospital on July 4.
The celebration on Independence Day was for the coach Manny Legace’s daughter, Sabrina. Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender, Matiss Kivlenieks, was enjoying the hot tub at the height of the festivities when the host decided to set off fireworks. In what officials deem an accident, the fireworks tilted slightly and began firing at people.
The fireworks flew over the hot tub, and Kivlenieks, along with several others, attempted to escape the danger by exiting the tub. This is when the NHL player was struck in the chest by one of the mortars, resulting in internal injuries.
Matiss Kivlenieks was pronounced dead at Ascension Providence Hospital, and the cause of death was determined after a full autopsy was conducted by Dr. Ljubisa Dragovic, the Oakland County Chief Medical Examiner.
Before the autopsy, it was believed that the 24-year-old NHL player died from head trauma after slipping while attempting his escape from the hot tub. It was assumed that Kivlenieks slipped and hit his head on concrete while running from the fireworks. But further examination concluded that the cause of death was internal damages following the malfunctioning mortars.
Lt. Jason Meier from the Novi police said that “there was some minor injury to his exterior, which would lead us to believe that some portion of the firework made contact with him, but we’re not really sure if it was a direct hit or whether the percussion from the explosion caused his injuries.” Meier admitted that “at the moment, we’re pretty certain this was a tragic accident.”
In a statement from the Columbus Blue Jackets on Twitter, the NHL team said that “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. We are heartbroken. Please keep his family in your thoughts and prayers. Rest in peace, Kivi.” The goaltender signed with Columbus as a free agent back in 2017 and represented Latvia in several international tournaments.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that “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.” Kivlenieks, who had eight career games with the Columbus Blue Jackets, went 2-2-2 with a 3.09 goals-against average.
Kivlenieks also represented Latvia in the 2021 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship in June. The Latvian Hockey Federation said that the goaltender’s “departure is a great loss not only for Latvian hockey but for the entire Latvian nation.” Matiss Kivlenieks was being considered for a No. 2 goaltender spot for the Columbus Blue Jackets next season.
The July 4 incident had no other injuries, and no charges were filed as of Tuesday. Authorities are still investigating what happened, though officials say this is an isolated accident. The fireworks used during the wedding were legal, according to Lieutenant Meier.
Nick Foligno, the former Blue Jackets captain, said that Kivlenieks “had a great smile and always was in a good mood.” Foligno explained that although “it’s cliché,” it was exactly the kind of guy he was. Just enjoying his life as a 24-year-old living out his dream, and you could tell he didn’t take one day for granted, which makes this tragedy even more hard to bear.”
“That was a brutal wake up this morning,” said David Savard, a former teammate. “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.”