'He came to the rink with a smile on his face' — CBJ mourns loss of goalie Matiss Kivlenieks

Team planning memorial for young goalie
Matiss Kivlenieks
Blue Jackets Goalie Dies Hockey
Posted at 4:35 PM, Jul 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-07 18:33:33-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Columbus Blue Jackets continue to mourn the loss of 24-year-old goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks who died Sunday in a July 4 fireworks related incident.

Kivlenieks was attending the wedding of Blue Jackets goaltending coach Manny Legace's daughter Sunday night at a home in Novi, Michigan. Kivlenieks was in a hot tub when a fireworks malfunction at the home occurred. Kivlenieks was trying to get out of the hot tub when he slipped and fell, hitting his head.

While police originally believed the goalie died from head trauma, an autopsy revealed Kivlenieks died from a percussive injury which caused damage to his organs, meaning it was the shock of the firework explosion that led to his death, not him slipping and hitting his head on the concrete.

Kivlenieks' teammate and close friend goalie Elvis Merzlikins was also at the wedding and was there when the accident occurred.

"Our focus has been on family, both Matiss' in Latvia and our own Blue Jackets family here and we're doing everything we can to support everyone," said John Davidson, Blue Jackets president of hockey operations. "I'd also like to thank our fans, the Columbus community and the hockey world for the outpouring of love they've showed Kivi these past three days. It's been spectacular. The prayers and messages of support have been overwhelming and very much appreciated by all of us."

A Riga, Lativa native, Kivlenieks signed with the Blue Jackets as a free agent in May 2017, going 2-2-2 with a 3.09 goals-against average and .899 save percentage in his eight career games with Columbus.

Kivlenieks played most of his games with the Cleveland Monsters, the Blue Jackets' affiliate, notching a 33-35-9 record with a 3.31 GAA, .896 SV% and three shutouts in his 85 games with the Monsters.

The team said that they've been working with Kivlenieks' family in Latvia, and are planning services and a memorial for him soon.

"We're hoping to get that finalized shortly and then we'll let everybody know," Davidson said.

As family, friends, fans and loved ones of Kivlenieks mourn the loss of the young man, they also remember the good he brought into the world.

"I think our players said it best, that he always came into the rink with a smile on his face and a great, positive attitude," said Blue Jackets General Manager Jarmo Kekäläinen. "We thought greatly of his potential and a big part of it was his attitude. He wanted to get better every day."

That talent was something that made Kivlenieks a rising star in the Blue Jackets organization as he continued his growth with the Cleveland Monsters.

"We projected him as a full-time NHL goalie," said Blue Jackets General Manager Jarmo Kekäläinen. "That's what we had envisioned when we signed him as a free agent and that's what we were moving towards. He had a bright future."

As the team and staff continue mourning Kivleniek's death, the organization has made resources available to players and staff who may be struggling with grief from this incident.

"We as an organization, we work everything from grief counselors to people phoning or texting, everything from A to Z, we're trying to cover every base we can," Davidson said. "This isn't just the fact itself, this has far reaching effects."

RELATED: Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks dead at 24 in fireworks-related incident

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