Tragedy struck the National Hockey League over the holiday weekend as Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Matiss Kivlenieks, 24, died as the result of a fireworks accident at the suburban Detroit home of one of the team’s coaches, according to the Detroit News.
The native of Latvia was reportedly attending a party at the Novi, Michigan home of former Detroit Red Wings netminder and current Blue Jackets goaltending coach Manny Legace, who earlier in the day had hosted his daughter’s Hawaiian-themed wedding.
Police received an emergency call from the residence Sunday evening just after 10 p.m., and though Kivlenieks was taken to nearby Ascension Providence Hospital, he was soon pronounced dead of his injuries, the Detroit News added. Novi Police Department Lt. Jason Meier explained, “At the moment, we’re pretty certain this was a tragic accident.”
Early reports suggested that Kivlenieks slipped while attempting to exit a hot tub to flee errant fireworks and sustained a fatal head injury. However, a subsequent autopsy indicated that either a direct impact to his chest from the misdirected mortar, or the percussive effect of the blast itself, caused deadly internal organ damage, as the Daily Mail noted.
Arriving in the United States back in 2016 with a dream of playing in the NHL, Kivlenieks was never formally drafted, but landed a three-year, $2.5 million contract with the Columbus team and also played with the Cleveland Monsters of the American Hockey League.
Blue Jackets president of hockey operations, John Davidson, expressed the organization’s sadness in a statement, saying, “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 young hockey star was also remembered fondly by his manager, Jay Grossman, who described Kivlenieks as “a really humble, thoughtful, intelligent, radiant young man,” adding that he was “really observant” and “took everything in.”
As Fox News noted, a moment of silence for Kivlenieks was held ahead of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup championship series pitting the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Montreal Canadiens, with the arena’s public address announcer declaring, “The National Hockey League family mourns the tragic passing of Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks.”
Fellow Latvian Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins posted a heartbreaking tribute to Kivlenieks that included what may be the last photograph of the hockey star, featuring the two men sitting together in Hawaiian-themed apparel, presumably at the wedding held just hours before his death. “My little brother,” Merzlikins began, adding, “what to say, I really loved you” and concluding, “you will be our guardian angel.”