July 4 was a sad day for the NHL community and the hockey world. 

As people around the world celebrated Independence Day, Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks died from an errant fireworks mortar blast at a Michigan home. The autopsy determined that Kivlenieks died of chest trauma and not a fall, as authorities previously reported. 

The fire department and EMTs arrived at his private home 4 minutes and 38 seconds after receiving a 911 call and Kivlenieks was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.


A post shared by Matiss Kivlenieks (@m_kiv80)

John Davidson, the president of hockey operations for Blue Jackets, extended his condolences in a statement. 

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.

Kivlenieks’ died on the eve of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final in Montreal between Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens. Both teams observed a moment of silence in the Bell Centre before the game. 

An image of Kivlenieks was displayed on the scoreboard.


A post shared by Matiss Kivlenieks (@m_kiv80)

Kivlenieks Ice Hockey Career

Born on August 26, 1996, Kivlenieks began his ice hockey career in 2011 when he played for Prizma Riga. 

Kārlis Zirnis, a former NAHL (North American Hockey league) player and scout, who was part of the coaching staff for the Latvian national team, encouraged Kivlenieks to try for the NAHL. Kivlenieks took the advice and left Latvia for the United States. 

During his first year in the United States, Kivlenieks played Tier 3 hockey with the Edina Lakers in the now-defunct Minnesota Junior Hockey League. After a season in Edina, he unsuccessfully tried out for the Janesville Jets and ended up with Forest Lake Lakers. 


A post shared by Matiss Kivlenieks (@m_kiv80)

Kivlenieks eventually reached Tier I junior hockey in the 2016–17 USHL season and led the Sioux City Musketeers to victory as the league’s regular-season champions. He was also honored with First All-Star Team, Goaltender of the Year, and Player of the Year at the United States Hockey League. 

In May 2017, Kivlenieks signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets as a free agent 2017 and played mainly for the Cleveland Monsters. Eventually, he made his NHL debut at Madison Square Garden and led his team to victory against the New York Rangers after blocking 31 out of the 32 shots. 

Kivlenieks played eight games for the club overall and was seen as a possible No. 2 goaltender next season if Joonas Korpisalo or Elvis Merzlikins is traded.

Outpouring of Love

In the wake of Kivlenieks's unfortunate demise, there has been an outpouring of condolences and remembrance from those across the hockey world. Former Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno only sang praises about his ex-teammate in a tweet. 

One thing I loved and appreciated about him was he had a great smile and always was in a good mood. I know it’s cliché, but that’s exactly the kind of guy he was. 

Meanwhile, Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen shared a sentimental tweet. Former teammate and current Tampa Bay Lightning member, David Savard, and Blue Jackets forward Max Domi also expressed their condolences. 

Kivlenieks, who mostly kept his personal life out of the limelight, clearly left a lasting impression on so many he interacted with. His death has perturbed the hockey world.