NHL goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks died over the Fourth of July weekend from a fireworks accident at a private party. The 24-year-old Latvian plays for the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets and has spent time at the team’s minor league affiliate in Cleveland. Kivlenieks was at a party in Novi, Michigan, on Sunday when a fireworks display tipped over and sent an explosive in the direction of people watching in a hot tub nearby rather than into the sky. Kivlenieks was one of the onlookers who scrambled to get out of the hot tub, authorities said, and it is believed that he was hit in the chest by the fireworks mortar. Local police said the incident was by all indications a tragic accident.
“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,” local police told the Detroit News. Authorities said Kivlenieks was unresponsive when emergency workers arrived on the scene in the small town 30 miles northwest of Detroit; Kivlenieks was declared dead at the hospital from chest trauma. Originally authorities believed Kivlenieks had died from a fall, hitting his head while trying to flee from the fireworks, but an autopsy altered their thinking, confirming the explosive as the cause of death. No one else was injured during the incident.
Kivlenieks had played sparingly since signing with the Blue Jackets in 2017, making his NHL debut in January 2020. He made eight appearances in the net over the past season and a half, but was considered in contention to be the backup goaltender for the Blue Jackets next season. Kivlenieks also represented Latvia at the international level, most recently at the World Championship in June. The hockey community reacted with great sadness Monday. The Latvian Hockey Federation called Kivlenieks’ death “a great loss not only for Latvian hockey but for the entire Latvian nation.” The NHL season is currently in its final days, though the Blue Jackets’ season is already complete, and the league held a moment of silence Monday night before Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final in Montreal.