The Latvian goaltender suffered a head injury in a fall on Sunday, the Blue Jackets said in a news release. He was also struck in the chest by a fireworks blast, medical examiners later said. “Medical personnel were called immediately, but he succumbed a short time later,” the team said.
Kivlenieks and several others were in a hot tub when a nearby mortar-style firework tipped and started firing toward them, according to police in Novi, Mich.
Kivlenieks and the others scrambled to get out of the way and he was injured in the process, Lt. Jason Meier of the Novi Police Department said.
“At the moment, we’re pretty certain this was a tragic accident,” Meier told The Associated Press.
The Oakland County Medical Examiner’s office ruled on Monday that Kivlenieks died of chest trauma from the fireworks mortar, and not from the head injury, the AP reports.
“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,” John Davidson, the team’s president of hockey operations, said in a statement.
“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.”
“Life is so precious and can be so fragile,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen tweeted. “Hug your loved ones today. RIP Matiss, you will be dearly missed.”
Kivlenieks signed with the Blue Jackets as a free agent in 2017 and played 85 games with the team’s minor-league affiliate, the Cleveland Monsters, from 2017-2021.
He made his NHL debut against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 19, 2020, in a victorious 2-1 game. Kivlenieks appeared in eight NHL games over his career and compiled a record of 2-2-2.
He won his last game against the Detroit Red Wings on May 8.
Kivlenieks also played for the Latvian national team on several occasions, including most recently at the IIHF World Championships in the spring.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman mourned Kivlenieks’ death in a statement on Monday. “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,” Bettman said. “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.”
— With files from The Associated Press