NHL goaltender Kivlenieks dead after fireworks accident

Washington (AFP) –


Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks of Latvia died Sunday after what the National Hockey League team described in a Monday announcement as "a tragic accident." He was 24.

The team said Kivlenieks appeared to have suffered a head injury in a fall but ESPN reported a Michigan medical examiner's preliminary autopsy showed Kivlenieks died of chest trauma caused by a fireworks blast.

The incident took place in Novi, a suburb northwest of Detroit.

"We are shocked and saddened by the loss of Matiss Kivlenieks," said John Davidson, the Blue Jackets president of hockey operations.

"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."

Kivlenieks, who signed with Columbus as a free agent in May 2017, went 2-2-2 with a 3.09 goals-against average in eight career appearances with the Blue Jackets.

The Riga native made his NHL debut at Madison Square Garden on January 19, 2020, stopping 31 of 32 shots in a 2-1 Columbus victory over the New York Rangers.

"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."

At this year's World Championships in Latvia, Kivlenieks went 1-2 with a shutout victory over four games, blanking eventual champion Canada 2-0 in group play.

"The NHL was saddened to learn of the sudden and tragic passing of goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.

"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."

Former Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno, who was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in April, was among those who tweeted tributes to Kivlenieks.

"Seeing all the beautiful tributes to Matiss only further cements what kind of person he was!" Foligno tweeted.

"What a tragic loss for all of us who knew him and I am thinking and praying for his family. Heaven gained a darn good goalie and better person. ... Just way too soon."