By Brian Hedger
From The Columbus Dispatch
COLUMBUS, Ohio—Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks died Sunday night as the result of an accident, police confirmed.
According to the Novi Police Department, which is still investigating, Kivlenieks, 24, appeared to sustain a head injury while trying to escape a hot tub after a fireworks malfunction.
“From what we can tell, we’re treating this as an accidental fall,” Novi Police Lt. Jason Meier said. “There was a fireworks malfunction and several people were fleeing a hot tub, including Matiss. It appears he slipped and fell getting out of the hot tub and hit his head on the concrete. There’s still an autopsy scheduled for (Monday) and we’re still investigating, but right now it just looks like a tragic accident.”
The Blue Jackets released a statement Monday confirming Kivlenieks’ death. The statement said that he sustained a head injury in a fall, medical personnel were called immediately and he died shortly afterward. The team’s statement did not mention fireworks.
“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,” Blue Jackets President of Hockey Operations John Davidson said in the 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.”
Meier said police were alerted at 10:15 p.m., and that emergency responders arrived four minutes, 38 seconds later.
Kivlenieks was then transported to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Meier declined to release the address of where the incident occurred or confirm that it happened at a residence owned by Blue Jackets goaltending coach Manny Legace, who lives in Novi in the offseason.
Kivlenieks and Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins said last week that they were heading to Novi for the weekend to visit Legace.
Kivlenieks joined the Blue Jackets in 2017 as an undrafted free agent out of the United States Hockey League. He signed a three-year contract with Columbus following a standout season in 2016–17 with the USHL’s Sioux City Muskateers. Kivlenieks was 20 at the time and was initially slated to play a small number of games while getting used to professional competition as a rookie with the Cleveland Monsters.
Injuries changed that plan and he wound up logging 43 appearances in his first American Hockey League season. He was also on the roster for Latvia at the 2018 men’s world championship in Denmark, acting as one of Merzlikins’ backups for the tournament.
Kivlenieks split 2018–19 between the AHL and ECHL before making his NHL debut with the Blue Jackets in 2019-20—defeating the New York Rangers 2–1 at Madison Square Garden while stopping 32 of 33 shots. He played six NHL games that season, posting a 2.95 goals-against average and .898 save percentage, and played the final two games for the Blue Jackets this season.
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